Nov. 17, 2007 — -- Hundreds of parents and their children descended on a suburban Maryland courtroom today to protest a judge's order requiring all children to be vaccinated in order to attend classes.
The protest culminates much-heated debate in Prince George's County, Md., about school immunizations.
Frustrated and fed-up county officials sent a letter to delinquent parents and ordered them to show up with their children in court today so standby nurses can vaccinate children. If parents refuse, the consequences are serious.
"Our goal is to get kids in school, not to put parents in jail," said Prince George's County state's attorney Glenn Ivey. "But if parents continue to be recalcitrant, they face up to 10 days in jail and a $50 a day fine."
Under Maryland state law, students who have religious reasons or a certified medical exemption will not be forced to be vaccinated, said Judge Phillip Nichols, who is overseeing the case, on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" today.
School officials reached out to the judicial branch after they said too many students failed to get the required vaccinations to stay in school. District officials have tried everything from sending notices to parents to offering free-shot clinics in order to get the children immunized.
Nichols said he believes lack of knowledge is not the reason why they children have not received their shots.
"I think everybody does know about it. The problem is just getting it done," Nichols said.
The situation became so serious that at one point more than 2,300 students were barred from attending class because they didn't have the proper immunizations. The number has dwindled down to about 1,000, and shots for hepatitis B and chicken pox are the shots children lack the most. Those immunizations were added to the state's required list last year.
Some children already have been out of the classroom for a month and the fight is affecting students as young as kindergarteners. But it's mostly affected middle and high school pupils.