A special hearing has been set up tomorrow to give parents in Prince George County, MD the choice: Get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail and fines.
More than 2,000 students in this suburban county have yet to get the shots they need to attend class.
It is one of the strongest efforts made by a U.S. school system to ensure its youngsters receive their shots.
At the courthouse, the health department will have a makeshift clinic to administer vaccines. Parents will be given the chance to offer the judge an excuse for why they didn’t get their kids vaccinated. Under Maryland law, parents can obtain exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
Those who fail to show up — and those who fail to offer a valid excuse and still refuse the shots — could be prosecuted under truancy laws and face possible jail time and fines of $50 per day. Prosecutors do not expect to actually charge anyone on Saturday.
“The message is get your kids vaccinated or get an exemption,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey. “You can’t just sit on the fence.”
The prospect of stiff penalties appears to have worked already. Last week, when the court notices were sent to parents, 2,300 students had not been properly immunized. As of Friday afternoon, only about 1,100 remained on the list.
Maryland, like all states, requires children to be immunized against several childhood illnesses, including polio, mumps and measles. In recent years, it has required that students up to high-school age be vaccinated against hepatitis B and chicken pox.
After that, thousands of students — most of them high schoolers — were found to lack the required immunizations. Parents were sent letters and visited at home, and the school system even offered free vaccinations.