Health officials in Maryland in the United States are getting tough with parents over the issue of immunisation.
Parents there have been told that their children who are enrolled in schools in the Prince George’s County Public School System must be immunised or will be barred from school.
The authorities have resorted to the courts to press home the message and say parents who do not comply could face heavy fines and even jail.
The county court sanctioned the sending out of over 800 letters to parents mid week urging them to come to the court house on Saturday where health care workers had set up tables to process paper work and administer shots.
The move followed an initial letter which was sent to parents on November 1st by the Prince George’s County state’s attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, that stated that children would be refused school entry if parents failed to provide proof that they had been vaccinated.
The school system is giving them a choice of either up to 10 days jail time and fines or getting their children immunised.
Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. of Prince George’s County Circuit Court, who is in charge of juvenile issues monitored the proceedings but many parents have reacted angrily and have regarded the move as heavy-handed.
Judge Nichols says though he recognises the actions might appear extreme the turnout was good.
Maryland does make allowances for religious or medical reasons and the initiative already appears to be working as before the court notices were sent out, 2,300 students were lacking immunisations and barred from attending classes and that number has now dropped to 1,100.
In all states in the U.S. children are immunised against illnesses such as polio, mumps and measles but many children have not received chicken pox and hepatitis B, which were only added to the required list last year.
Such drastic action to ensure children are vaccinated is uncommon in the U.S.; it is being made clear to parents that they cannot just sit on the fence and they have been given clear choices:- get an exemption; get your children vaccinated or else face jail or fines.
School and health officials, and prosecutors say parents have had ample warnings over the last twelve months and the campaign is aimed solely at protecting children, and not locking up parents.
Fines and jail terms could be metered out for those who do not comply and cannot not offer the judge a valid excuse and still refuse to comply.
The parents would be prosecuted under truancy laws and fines could amount to up to fifty dollars each day.