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Philly schools using email, calls, and even home visits to help kids get required vaccines

A new partnership between the Philadelphia School District and city health department is aimed at reducing the number of non-immunized students.

The MMR vaccine.
The MMR vaccine.Read moreAndrey Popov / MCT

Over the summer, parents of Philadelphia students got phone calls, text messages, and letters reminding them to have their children vaccinated. By Monday’s deadline’s for immunizations, the district may start planning home visits to families that have not provided medical records or sought exemptions.

District officials on Thursday said they want to minimize the number of students who are excluded from attending school for vaccine-related reasons. This year, students were given 60 days to provide their records or obtain a religious, medical or philosophical exemption.

Karyn Lynch, the district’s chief of student support services, said that as of this week, about 3,600 children were not yet in compliance with school policies. The next step, she said, is contacting families directly to learn why the student has not been vaccinated or sought an exclusion, and offering to help make appointments.

» READ MORE: Healthier schools means increased immunizations

Working with the city health department, the district has sent thousands of messages to parents of the approximately 124,000 students enrolled in traditional public schools. Officials also launched a hotline to help parents get immunizations and submit medical records, and a website with information about the vaccines required for students of every grade level.

“We are working extremely hard to ensure that not a single child is unable to attend school,” Lynch said.

About 12,000 pupils lacked either the state-mandated vaccinations or an exemption last school year.

» READ MORE: Vaccines aren’t just for kids: Why it’s important for adults to keep up with their immunizations

Earlier this year, some school nurses told The Inquirer they were concerned by a change in district policy that prohibited them from sending home students who had not been vaccinated. Lynch has said the shift was needed to standardize procedures so that district officials across the city were following the same process, though nurses said excluding students was often an effective way of forcing families to provide the medical records.

Philadelphia’s school immunization compliance numbers are generally in line with the rest of the state’s, according to Pennsylvania data. During the 2017-18 school year, 96% of students received at least two doses of the required measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. That number was 97% statewide.