Call: 1-202-476-5000

About us
Key Issues and Programs
Asthma Education
Burn Safety
Injury and Violence Prevention
Congenital Heart Disease Screening Program
Oral Health
Sickle Cell
Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC)
Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment (MACCHE)
Community Benefit Program
Community Relations and Outreach
Government Affairs
Children's School Services
Children's Policy Statements
Across the Nation

this page Email This Page
Print this page Print This Page

  Join Us On:
  Follow Children's on Facebook  Facebook
  Follow Children's on Twitter  Twitter
  Watch Children's on YouTube  YouTube

Immunization (It’s Wise to Immunize)

The It’s Wise to Immunize program is dedicated to increasing immunization rates and the use of primary care providers. The program educates the public about the importance of immunizations, provides vaccinations and links families to primary care providers.

It’s Wise to Immunize is a partnership including the District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH) Immunization Program, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Children’s Government and External Affairs division, and Children’s School Services School Health Program.

Through this partnership, thousands of school-aged children have been vaccinated to prepare them for a healthy school year. Since the partnership began, the immunization compliance rate for children enrolled in DCPS has improved greatly and is higher than the national average.

It's Wise to Immunize - Getting the Flu Shot
The importance of having the flu shot during the flu season

English Version

Spanish Version

It's Wise to Immunize - Immunizations
The importance of getting your child immunized

English Version

Spanish Version

--The immunization compliance rate increased from 40 percent at the end of the 2000 – 2001 academic year to 95 percent in June of 2006.

It's Wise to Immunize Programs
  • Immunization Hotline lets DC families know if their children are up-to-date on immunizations.
  • Dr. Bear®’s Express travels to neighborhoods to immunize children up to 4 years of age.
  • Dr. Bear®’s Guide to a Healthy Child gives families valuable information about annual check-ups, free health insurance and more.
  • Dr. Bear®’s Healthy Child Immunization Passport tells families when children and teens need vaccines. Children must be up-to-date on vaccines to attend DCPS and most other schools nationwide.
  • Family Fun Day provides an opportunity for children to get immunized for free.
  • Back Pack Campaign gives children free backpacks with school supplies when they visit a Children’s Health Center for immunizations and annual check-ups.
  • REACH identifies the barriers to primary care services and educates parents on the importance of primary care.

Immunization Hotline
District of Columbia families can call the hotline during the month of August to speak with a registered nurse who can answer questions regarding their child’s immunization status. Families with children in need of immunizations will either be referred to a medical home or other immunization clinics. 

The hotline’s goal is to teach families how to advocate for their children’s health, reach children in need of immunizations and decrease the number of already compliant children that attend the Family Fun Day event.

To inquire about your child's immunization status, or to speak with a registered nurse about any questions or concerns, please call the It's Wise to Immunize Hotline at 202-476-5387, Monday-Friday between 9 am and 5 pm.

Back to Top
Back to other programs

Dr. Bear®’s Express 

Dr. Bear®’s Express is a new partnership between the District of Columbia Department of Health and Children’s National Medical Center. It is designed to increase immunization rates among children up to 4 years of age and provide primary care education to families.

Staffed by a licensed, registered nurse and community relations representative, this customized mobile unit travels throughout the city to give immunizations while educating parents, caregivers and students about the importance of getting immunized and of having a primary care provider to provide ongoing health assessments.

The mobile unit is equipped with access to the District of Columbia Immunization Registry, which allows the trained staff to access each child’s immunization history to ensure that every child receives the correct vaccines.

To request services, please download and follow the instructions on the form.

To learn more about Dr. Bear®’s Express, contact Kimberly M. Harris at 202-476-4987 or

Back to other programs

Dr. Bear®’s Guide to a Healthy Child
Dr. Bear®’s Guide to a Healthy Child

Dr. Bear®’s Guide to a Healthy Child includes information about:

**PDF files require Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your PC, you can download it for free .

Back to Top
Back to other programs

Diseases Vaccines Prevent
Vaccinations will prevent your child from getting the following diseases:


  • Respiratory disease spread by coughing and sneezing
  • Gradual onset of sore throat and low-grade fever
  • Heart failure or paralysis can result if disease is not treated

Tetanus (lockjaw)

  • Affects the brain
  • Bacteria enters the body through a break in skin
  • Early symptoms are headache, irritability and stiffness in the jaw and neck
  • Later, causes severe muscle spasms in the jaw, neck, arms, legs, back and abdomen

Pertussis (whooping cough)

  • Highly contagious respiratory disease
  • Causes severe spasms of coughing that can interfere with eating, drinking and breathing
  • Complications include pneumonia, convulsions and swelling of the brain
  • One out of every 3 cases of pertussis encephalitis will die, another 1 of 3 will have permanent brain damage

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

  • Causes meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis, arthritis, and skin and throat infections
  • More serious in children under age 1; after age 5, there is little risk of getting the disease
  • Before the introduction of infant vaccination, 1 child in 200 was affected before age 5


  • Highly contagious respiratory disease
  • Causes rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes, lasting about a week
  • Causes ear infections and pneumonia in 1 out of every 12 children who get it
  • Causes swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness or mental retardation in 1 to 2 of every 2,000 people who get it


  • Body becomes covered with sores
  • Before 1980, smallpox killed and disabled tens of millions of people throughout history


  • Causes fever, headache and swelling of one or both cheeks or sides of the jaw
  • Four to six persons out of 100 who get mumps will get meningitis
  • Inflammation of the testicles occurs in about 4 of every 10 male adults who get mumps
  • May result in hearing loss, which is usually permanent

Rubella (German Measles)

  • Also known as German measles
  • Mild disease in children and young adults, causing rash and fever for 2 to 3 days
  • Causes devastating birth defects if acquired by a pregnant woman, there is at least a 20 percent chance of damage to the fetus if a woman is infected early in pregnancy


  • Serious cases cause paralysis and death
  • Mild cases cause fever, sore throat, nausea, headaches, and stomach aches; may also cause neck and back pain or stiffness

Varicella (Chickenpox)

  • Highly contagious, it causes a skin rash of a few or hundreds of blister-like lesions, usually on the face, scalp or trunk
  • Usually more severe in children over 13 years of age and adults
  • Although complications are rare, annually 9,000 hospitalizations for chickenpox occur in the United States, with up to 100 deaths
  • Complications include bacterial infection of the skin, swelling of the brain and pneumonia

Hepatitis B

  • Can destroy the liver (cirrhosis)
  • Can lead to liver cancer
  • Causes pain in muscles, joints or stomach

Facts about Annual Check-Ups

What is an annual check-up?
During an annual check-up, also called a “physical,” a primary care provider performs an exam on your child’s body and asks you and your child questions about your child’s health history. During the physical exam, primary care providers will check your child’s:

  • Abdominal organs
  • Heart, lungs and abdomen
  • Spinal alignment
  • Fine motor development, such as writing and coloring skills
  • Gross motor development, such as the ability to jump and run
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Blood pressure and heart rate
  • Teeth, gums, tongue, and throat
  • Pulses and reflexes
  • Eyes, ears, nose, and skin

Who should have an annual check-up?
Children should have check-ups at ages:

  • 1 month
  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 9 months
  • 12 months
  • 15 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years
  • Every year after 2 years
Back to Top

The District of Columbia Public Schools strongly recommends that every student have an annual check-up.

Why are annual check-ups important?
Annual check-ups give you and your child the chance to speak with and ask questions to a medical expert to discuss your child’s health and development. Returning to the same primary care provider every year allows your child’s primary care provider to follow your child’s health across time, making it more likely that he or she will pick up on small changes in your child’s health that a new primary care provider might not notice.

Sometimes during annual physicals, primary care providers catch the early stages of major diseases, like cancer or problems with a child’s heart, or of other issues such as hearing and vision problems that might cause the child to perform poorly in school. Annual check-ups are also an important way for primary care providers to monitor your child’s development and to catch abnormalities in areas such as sleep or speech.

Seeing the same doctor regularly also benefits your child by allowing him or her to develop a relationship with his or her primary care provider. When children form a relationship with their primary care provider, they are more likely to talk openly about their health and any concerns they may have. This relationship becomes especially important during the pre-teen and teen years, when kids begin having questions about smoking, drugs, alcohol, and sexuality.

How to Obtain Health Insurance
There is free health insurance to cover you (including pregnant women) and the most important people in your life – your kids. It’s called DC Healthy Families and it’s for District residents who are without health insurance. In about a month, your family could be covered for doctors’ visits, prescription medicines and vision and dental care – even for pre-existing conditions. Free transportation is provided and you can choose the health plan that’s right for your family.

Is my family eligible?
To qualify, you must live in the District of Columbia and meet certain income requirements. Many working families are eligible. U.S. citizenship is not required.

How can my family apply?
Simply fill out a DC Healthy Families/Medicaid application. To get an application, call 1-888-557-1116. You can also pick up an application at Giant, Safeway or CVS Pharmacy stores or a DC public library.

What do I need to do to apply?
When you apply, simply mail the following with your completed application:

  • Proof that you live in DC (for example, a utility or telephone bill, lease, rent receipt, or DC driver’s license) AND
  • Proof of one month’s income (for example, pay stubs, letter from your employer, or other approval letters, such as TANF or food stamps) AND
  • Proof of your family’s Social Security numbers (for example, copies of Social Security card or other documents with Social Security number on it for children and parents who are applying)

If I need help completing the application or have other questions, who do I call?
Call 1-888-557-1116 between 8 am and 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday.

What Do I Do With My Application When It Is Complete?
Put all the materials listed above in the self-addressed, stamped envelope that came with the application. Mail it to the Income Maintenance Administration (IMA).

How do I know if my children and I are eligible?
You will receive a letter within 45 days informing you of your family’s eligibility.

If my family is eligible, where can I go to a doctor?
Once you receive your eligibility letter, you can go to a participating doctor.

Will my family receive an insurance card?
You will receive a second letter asking you to choose your health plan and primary care provider (or doctor). For your children, you will need to choose a pediatrician. When you have chosen your health plan and primary care provider (or doctor), you will receive health insurance cards for your family.

How long does my eligibility last?
Your eligibility lasts for 12 months. At least 60 days before your eligibility runs out, you will receive a letter asking you to update changes in your residency, income and family size. If your residency, income or family size changes during the 12 months, you must report the change within 10 days.

Now what?
Make a commitment to keep you and your children healthy by scheduling and attending regular visits to your primary care provider for child and adolescent check ups, immunizations, completion of school forms, and sick visits (when necessary). (See the How to Use Your Primary Care Provider sheet.)

This information was provided by the DC Department of Health Medical Assistant Administration.

Back to Top
Back to other programs

How to Use Your Primary Care Provider
Sometimes it is hard to know when to see your child’s primary care provider or when to take your child to the Emergency Room. For most non-emergency situations, your doctor can help and there is no need to sit and wait in the Emergency Room. Please see your child’s primary care provider for the following situations.

When your child is sick or injured with the following conditions:

  • Colds
  • Ear infections
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rashes
  • Sprained wrists and ankles
  • Sports injuries

For well child visits that may include:

  • Adolescent medicine
  • Check-ups
  • Immunizations
  • School form completion

Help with common childhood concerns:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Sleep issues
  • School and learning difficulties
  • Rashes
  • Asthma
  • Obesity

If your doctor is not immediately available, you should go to an Emergency Room if your child experiences any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Broken bones
  • Swelling of lips or tongues
  • Large cuts that won’t stop bleeding
  • Seizures
Back to Top
Back to other programs

Facts about the Flu

What is the flu?
There are many strains of influenza viruses that can cause the flu. The flu can be relatively mild or it may result in serious and even life-threatening complications. The flu virus attacks the respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs.

Who should get the flu vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the flu vaccine be given to all children ages 6 months to 5 years and to children older than 5 years with health problems such as asthma, sickle cell disease, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, other lung problems, and heart or kidney disease.

When should children get the flu vaccine?
Every year the flu vaccine is made specifically for the types of flu predicted for that year. The vaccine works best when it has two weeks to build immunity. To be ready for flu season, children should get a flu shot by Thanksgiving.

What are the symptoms of the flu?
The chart below, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will help you determine whether your child has a cold or the flu. 

How is the flu treated?

Because the flu is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. To help alleviate your child’s pain and fever, you can give him or her acetaminophen, like Tylenol®. Do not give your child aspirin unless specifically directed by your pediatrician.

Parents also can help make their child more comfortable during the flu. It is important that your child drink plenty of fluids because a high fever, as can occur with the flu, can dehydrate your child. Make sure your child gets getting plenty of rest and engages in restful activities such as reading, coloring and watching TV or movies.

When should I call the pediatrician’s office?
Time is the best cure for both the common cold and flu. Over-the-counter medications will help ease some of the symptoms and make your child more comfortable, but won’t make the virus go away more quickly. For mild flu illness, don’t go to the emergency room; instead, use home treatment.

Call your pediatrician’s office if your child develops flu-like symptoms and is considered at high risk for complications of the flu, such as if he or she is very young or has other health problems. Children who appear seriously ill should be seen promptly by their pediatrician or at an emergency room. Children with fevers higher than 104 degrees, or those having trouble eating or drinking or difficulty breathing, are considered to be seriously ill.

How can you and your family members prevent the flu?

  • By frequently washing your hands.
  • By covering your mouths when coughing or sneezing.
  • By checking with a doctor to see if the flu vaccine is available.
Back to Top
Back to other programs

Facts about Dental Exams

What is a dental exam?
The dentist or dental hygienist will first review your child’s health history and then examine your child’s mouth and teeth. An exam checks the following:

  • Your child’s general health to make sure he/she is healthy and can have his/her teeth cleaned
  • Your child’s mouth, gums, cheeks, and teeth. X-rays will be taken if needed to look for cavities and bone health

What is a cleaning?
After your child’s dental exam, his or her teeth will be cleaned and fluoride will be put on the teeth for cavity protection. The dentist or dental hygienist will also show you and your child how to brush and floss his or her teeth to keep them healthy.

Who should have a dental exam?
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), everyone should have dental check-ups twice a year, starting after the first baby tooth appears.

Why are dental exams important?
Professional dental exams serve many purposes. During an exam, dentists and dental hygienists can:

  • Remove plaque that causes tooth decay.
  • Spot early tooth decay and help you and your child prevent it from getting worse
  • Fix decayed teeth with fillings and crowns before they cause your child pain.
  • Apply dental sealants to permanent teeth to help prevent cavities.
  • Discover other medical problems such as diabetes during dental exams.

Back to Top
Back to other programs

Dr. Bear®’s Healthy Child Immunization Passport
Making sure your child is up-to-date on his or her immunizations is important for many reasons. Immunizations keep your child from getting sick and help protect other children who spend time with your child but are unable to be immunized for medical reasons. Getting immunized can also help protect future generations of your family from diseases. In fact, immunizing your child could help eliminate diseases from the globe, as has been the case with smallpox.

This Immunization Passport will help keep your child on track with his or her immunizations by using these helpful tools:

Download the PDF version of  Dr. Bear®’s Healthy Child Immunization Passport*

*PDF files require Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your PC, you can download it for free.

Back to other programs

Family Fun Day
It’s Wise to Immunize Family Fun Day is held annually on the last Saturday before school starts in August in a Washington, DC community-based setting. The Family Fun Day serves as a final attempt to get all DCPS students vaccinated.

Children receive vaccines for free. While waiting for children to be vaccinated, families can participate in activities, listen to music and visit with Children’s community partners to learn about their initiatives.

Parents can also enroll in free health insurance with DC Healthy Families by brining proof of DC Residency, your Social Security Card, monthly earned income statements (if applicable), and out-of-pocket care expense statement (if applicable).

Back to Top
Back to other programs

Back Pack Campaign
The It’s Wise to Immunize Back Pack Campaign encourages families to get students immunized and connected to a medical home prior to the start of the next school year. Students who visit one of Children’s seven health centers in the District of Columbia for immunizations or annual check-ups during the month of July receive a back pack with school supplies and other incentives while supplies last.

Information about the 2008 It’s Wise to Immunize Back Pack Campaign will be available in the summer.

REACH is a new project that partners with the It’s Wise to Immunize campaign to identify the barriers faced by young children and their families in using primary care services.

The REACH team will identify communities with daycare centers reporting low immunization rates. Through surveys and focus groups, the team will then examine certain barriers and beliefs regarding use of primary care services. Finally, the team will offer families at targeted daycare centers an educational program which will address the identified barriers.

Based on the results of a formal needs-assessment, the REACH program plans to:

  • Teach parents and caregivers how to choose and use a medical home, when to see a primary care physician and when to seek emergency treatment.
  • Emphasize the importance of immunizations.

The team’s goal is to achieve greater understanding of primary care services and an increase in use of primary care services by families participating in the educational program in the District of Columbia.

Ultimately, the team hopes the pilot study will serve as a model for future community projects and that the results will serve as a basis for future interventions aimed at increasing the appropriate use of primary care services.

Back to Top
Back to other programs

Quick Links
Visiting and Staying at Children's
Refer a Patient to Children's
Find A Doctor at Children's
Request an Appointment at Children's
Online Bill Pay
Give to Children's
Get Involved at Children's
Subscribe to Children's RSS Feed