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Vaccines Still Required, Classroom Or Not

Dana Vollmer
The Carle Mobile Health Clinic parked outside Bloomington Junior High School on Monday to provide physicals and immunizations to students. It's the first time Carle's mobile service has provided care in Bloomington.

The Carle Mobile Health Clinic made its Bloomington debut Monday, partnering with District 87 to offer physicals and immunizations for students.

Kelly Parker manages Carle's mobile health services. She said transportation, scheduling and cost already  are barriers for some families to get their kids' health care squared away.

Parker said the COVID-19 pandemic adds another element.

"With schools being virtual right now, I think there's just a lot of confusion as to whether the students even need them still. 'Should we come in and get these vaccines done?' And of course, the answer is yes," she said.

While the novel coronavirus is front of mind for most families, Parker said it's important not to forget about other communicable diseases children are susceptible to in the classroom and the community at large.

That includes things like the whooping cough and meningitis. Last year, there was an outbreak of measles, for example.

Parker said a lot of parents rely on schools to remind them when these vaccines are due, noting a reminder during the COVID-19 pandemic can't hurt.

"I think that people think, 'Oh, you don't really see these kinds of things anymore, so we don't need it.' Well, we absolutely need to keep kids vaccinated to prevent them from coming back," she said.

She said pop-up mobile clinics like Carle's can serve a reminder not to fall back on routine care during the  pandemic.

District 87 pushed back it's vaccination deadline to Oct. 15. It's usually the first day of school. Students were not allowed to return for in-person learning until they were compliant, according to District 87 Communication Director Julia Perez.

At the mid-October point, Bloomington Junior High School had 150 non-compliant students. Perez said that's about 50% more than usual. Bloomington High School currently has about 90 non-compliant students. BHS students don't return to the classroom until January.

Perez said school nurses will continue to call and send letters to parents reminding them to get their student caught up on immunizations.

About 30 Bloomington families signed up for the service, with more walk-ins on Monday.

Parker said the goal is to bring more mobile services to Bloomington-Normal, though there aren't any concrete plans yet. Until now, they've mostly operated in Champaign-Urbana.

Parker said Carle is in talks with the McLean County Health Department to partner on other services. The mobile clinic focuses on chronic condition management and education, lab testing and treatment of acute illness, among other services.

The clinic also allows Carle to bring medical practitioners where they're most needed—to neighborhoods where residents can't make it to a brick-and-mortar health center.

Perez said District 87 hopes to bring back the Carle Mobile Health Clinic over the summer to help families get compliant before the start of the 2021-22 school year.

This story has been updated to include immunization data from District 87 schools.

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Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.
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