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Guard troops immunize city kids

August 20, 1997

By KAREN MASTERSON

Staff Writer

Soldiers were milling around in fatigues Tuesday in front the Washington County Health Department.

Instead of their usual reserve maneuvers, the Maryland Army National Guard was called in to help the health department administer close to 150 child immunizations outside the building at 1302 Pennsylvania Ave.

"We're here to provide shade and help take care of people," said 1st Lt. John A. Stevens, company commander of Hagerstown's 729th support battalion.

He and a half dozen soldiers set up two camouflage tents, tables and chairs and provided water for the all-day immunization campaign.

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Free shots were offered to all families, and especially those unable to afford the expense of having a doctor's office administer each of the shots.

"The health department picks up those falling through the cracks," said Dr. Robert L. Parker, head of the department. He said private physicians do most immunizations, while the health department usually provides them for the uninsured.

Of the county's 24,000 children under 15 years old, he said roughly 6,000 each year need one or more shots. All told, youngsters receive as many as 19 shots by the time they reach age 12.

"I don't know the names of the shots. I just know they are required for school," said Debbie Pryor, who took her 11-year-old son, Dean, to the health department Tuesday.

Pryor said she learned about the health department's free service from Springfield Middle School. The school called to say her son needed two shots in order to attend classes, she said.

"The shots were both bad and good because they almost didn't hurt," Dean Pryor said. They were bad because they were shots but good because it could have been worse, he said.

The department will be immunizing youngsters at no cost until Sept. 15, Parker said. After that, parents will have to pay the standard $7 administrative fee per visit.

"I think it should be my choice whether I give my child shots. Tonight she'll be sick from it," said Rhonda Stitely of Sharpsburg. She brought her 5-year-old daughter in because Sharpsburg Elementary School called and said the child had to have shots.

Parker said the state requirement is essential for protecting all people from the spread of viral and bacterial diseases.

Tuesday was the first of a two-day, countywide effort designed to help parents get their children immunized. State law requires all children entering kindergarten and middle school to show proof that they're up-to-date on immunizations before school starts.

Day two of the campaign is next Tuesday, Aug. 26, at four locations around the county - Hancock Community Center, Clear Spring Fire Hall, Noland Community Center and Little Antietam Community Center.

More information can be obtained by calling 301-791-3229.

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