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JCPS gives hundreds of free physicals and childhood immunizations

 A small boy bites his lip and holds his the hand of an older boy while a nurse gives him a shot in the arm.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Kobe Brice, 4, holds his older brother's hand as he receives the immunizations required to start kindergarten in JCPS.

Thousands of Jefferson County Public Schools families struggle to get kids the shots and physical examinations they need to go to school and play sports. The district is trying to bridge the gap.

In the gym at Marion C. Moore School, 4-year-old Kobe Brice gripped his older brother Erik’s hand as a nurse prepped him for two shots he needed to start kindergarten.

“Don’t tighten up. It’s going to hurt way more if you tighten up,” Erik, a rising sixth grader, warned his little brother.

Their father, Erik Brice Sr., said his five kids usually get their immunizations from their pediatrician. But Brice recently lost his job, and with it, his family’s health insurance plan. They won’t be able to get on his wife’s plan until October, but the kids need their shots and physicals now so they’ll be protected against communicable diseases and eligible for sports and extracurricular activities.

“Me recently here going through my struggles and roller coaster in life — this really helps,” Brice said.

Around 19,000 JCPS students are behind on their shots, according to JCPS District Health Manager Eva Stone. Stone and other experts say that’s usually due to a lack of insurance coverage and socioeconomic barriers — like not having a car or not being able to take time off work to get children to their pediatrician.

Of the 19,000 students who are behind on vaccinations against diseases like measles, hepatitis and polio, Stone said 92% are in low-income households and 64% are students of color.

A 2022 investigation by LPM News found vaccination rates are declining in Kentucky, and that half of kindergarten classes in JCPS had vaccination rates that put students at risk of measles and polio outbreaks.

A young boy in jeans and a t-shirt stands on one foot next to a nurse in scrubs. They're in a school gym.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Aniketh Anil Kumar, 10, hops on one foot as part of his physical with JCPS nurse Micha Allen.

The vaccination clinic at Moore was one of several JCPS held in different schools over the last two weeks. In that time, Stone said the district completed 550 physicals and over 300 immunizations. JCPS chose schools in zip codes where they saw lower vaccination rates among students.

JCPS nurses had support from volunteers with Doctors for Health Communities, a group run by local physician Dr. Muhammad Babar.

In addition to the physical exams and vaccinations, Babar’s group provided eye exams.

As a child in Pakistan, Babar said he struggled in his studies for a year before he was diagnosed with myopia, which was solved with a pair of glasses.

“Health and learning go side by side,” Babar said.

Though the JCPS vaccination clinics are over for the summer, adults and children can get routine immunizations at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. Those interested can call 502-574-5380 to schedule an appointment.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.