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Education Reporter

Mother Charged with Neglect Over Immunizations
OWENSBORO, KY - Parents who believe even one hepatitis B shot is too many for young children haven't heard Dratesse Shemwell's story. Last month, the state of Kentucky took the single mother to court on neglect charges after her son, Tevin Washington, was expelled from kindergarten for having an "invalid" hepatitis B immunization.

In 1995, Dr. Donald Neel gave Tevin a second hepatitis B shot 24 hours earlier than state law requires, at 27 days old instead of 28. Kentucky law specifies that an initial hepatitis B shot be given shortly after birth, followed by a second shot 28 or more days later. The doctor admits he made an error, and the public school where the child is enrolled refuses to accept the immunization as valid.

All vaccinations administered by doctors in Kentucky are entered into a Health Department database. Out-of-state immunizations are recorded when students transfer to Kentucky schools. The computer does not recognize Tevin's hepatitis B vaccine as valid because of the one-day discrepancy in his age at the time of the second shot.

While the situation could be resolved with yet another shot, Shemwell insists her son has already had five hepatitis B vaccinations and refuses to allow any more, fearing possible side effects. "He's already had too many shots," she told the Kentucky Messenger Inquirer (10-25-01). "No one knows the side effects . . . Even the judge agreed no one knows."

Shemwell says Dr. Neel gave Tevin a third required hepatitis B shot in 1998, and that the child was also immunized in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1997 and at a grocery store in Evansville in 1999. Neel claims the mother is the problem because she has not provided documentation for the 1997 and 1999 shots. "The school has to go by the law, and there's nothing they can do," he commented.

Tom Skiratko, assistant superintendent of Owensboro public schools, allowed Tevin to return to class after an Oct. 22 hearing, but it may only be temporary. The bottom line, say Kentucky health officials, is that state law is based on the national Centers for Disease Control's "rigid" schedule for immunizations and that, without proper certification, a child cannot attend school.

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