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November 9, 2009

“We’re Saving the Vaccine for Public School Students”

A southwest Virginia mother of two brought her children to the public health department for an H1N1 vaccination. They told her, “We’re saving the vaccine for public school students.” A northern Virginia mom asked the Alexandria school system if her kids could be vaccinated with the others. They promptly rebuffed her.

What does HSLDA have to do with flu vaccinations? Everything—if homeschoolers are being discriminated against.

HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff called the Alexandria officials, but they refused to budge, insisting that it was the school’s property, and they could decide who comes on it. For the mom at the other end of the state, Woodruff called a state health department official, who promptly placed a call to southwest Virginia, and the homeschooled children got the vaccinations. One of her children had a respiratory issue.

Woodruff followed up with the state official and asked if unvaccinated children would get priority treatment at local public health departments consistent with their status as members of a “target group” the Center for Disease Control has identified. The surprising answer: no. She said that homeschooled children—who don’t have access to all the convenient public school vaccination events—would have to get in line and be treated like people who are not in a target group.

Confronted with this totally unsatisfactory situation, Woodruff sent a memo to the state commissioner of health.

This began a chain of events that led to a statewide conference call with Woodruff, Yvonne Bunn of Home Educators Association of Virginia, Parish Mort of Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, Dr. Karen Remley, state commissioner of health, Dr. Diane Helentjaris, state office of epidemiology, and others. Woodruff asked Remley to instruct local public health departments to set aside special times each week when unvaccinated children would receive priority treatment. Bunn and Mort agreed that more needed to be done for homeschooled children.

Remley made no commitment during the conference call, but a few days later she agreed with Woodruff’s request and began instructing public health departments to set up (at least) weekly pediatric vaccination clinics.

Many parents have good reasons to not vaccinate their children. But for those who want it, they can now expect their children, as members of a target group, to have equitable access when the vaccine is available at public health departments.

In a follow up conference call, Remley said that she expects there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wants it by December. Until then, the key word is patience.