University of Pittsburgh
March 28, 2001


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, Mar. 29 -- A task force of university and community leaders convened by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent John Thompson today unveiled plans for a campaign to help keep more than 30,000 students in Allegheny County in school.

In accordance with Pennsylvania law, elementary and secondary schools are faced with suspending students who have not provided documentation of their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations by April 30. Statewide, there are more than 600,000 at risk of suspension. Despite repeated efforts by the public schools to alert the families to this situation, approximately 30,000 students in Allegheny County are at risk, with 11,200 of those in Pittsburgh.

Nordenberg said that the University was pleased to respond to the request for help from the Pittsburgh Public Schools. "It would be a shame if any child was suspended from school because of a failure to be immunized or to document that immunization. Our aim is to use the expertise in our Graduate School of Public Health, in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Schools and leaders and volunteers from other sectors of the community, to assist public health officials in maintaining full enrollment in the schools," Nordenberg said.

Thompson added that the task force will concentrate on informing the community of the need to update the students' immunization records, along with providing opportunities in the schools and community clinics to provide the MMR booster to students who have not received it. "We are facing a civic crisis, and the ultimate goal is to ensure the health of all children in school while also ensuring that their education is not interrupted by a failure to comply with state law," Thompson said.

In order to facilitate the effort, Bruce Dixon, M.D., director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said that double verbal consent by a parent or guardian will suffice, in lieu of a signed consent form, to allow immunizations to be administered. He also emphasized, that, in cases where no proof of previously administered booster shots can be found, repeat immunizations will cause no harm to the student.

The chair of the task force's executive committee is Stephen Thomas, Philip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Social Justice, and director of the Center for Minority Health at the University of Pittsburgh. In that role, he will coordinate the necessary medical services, community outreach, and health communications strategies needed to accomplish the goal.

Over the course of the next month, the task force will be working to establish partnerships with community organizations, the faith-based community, the news media, service clubs, and elected officials to communicate the importance of maintaining up-to-date medical records and ongoing health care for students.

"We want to make sure that the families of the students realize that their children's education could be jeopardized if they don't have the required MMR vaccination, and the necessary documentation to provide proof of that vaccination," Thomas said. He noted that any parents who were unsure of their child's health record or vaccination status should contact the child's school nurse as soon as possible, in order to prevent the child's possible suspension on May 1.

Additionally, the Office of Communications and Marketing of the Pittsburgh Public Schools has dedicated 622-3617 as a telephone information line in operation from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays for anyone with questions about the immunization program or scheduled clinics.

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