Schools to offer H1N1 shots

Published 8:34 am Wednesday, October 14, 2009

FRANKLIN—To try and combat a flu outbreak, schools in Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties will begin offering H1N1 influenza vaccinations to students next week.

Amal Patel, an epidemiologist for the Western Tidewater Health District, said that all public and private schools in the health district have agreed to partner with their local health departments to offer H1N1 vaccine injections at schools.

“Children from 6 months to 24 years are a priority group,” Patel said. “One of the best ways to reach children from 5 to 18 years old is in schools.”

The vaccine is being offered at no cost to school districts or students. Patel said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention purchased the H1N1 vaccine, and they are not charging to administer it.

“It’s not required,” Patel said of the vaccination. “But it is recommended.”

Consent forms for the vaccinations have been sent home with students. Patel said that the health department will only offer the injectable vaccine in schools, which is made using an egg-based process. He said that the health department will offer the nasal spray vaccine at a later date in other locations for those who have egg allergies.

Virginia is now reporting widespread H1N1 activity, according to the CDC. Health departments are no longer testing every suspected case of H1N1, nor are they required to notify schools of students who are infected with the virus.

Last month, it is believed that H1N1 contributed to the death of a Windsor High School student. The teen had an underlying medical condition that increased her risk of complications and had not attended or visited the school this year, according to Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for Isle of Wight County Public Schools. As of Tuesday morning, Goff said that about half of the district’s students had returned consent forms for the vaccinations.

“There’s been a good response from parents,” she said.

Dr. Michelle Belle, superintendent of Franklin City Public Schools, said that all three of the division’s schools were sending out letters with the consent forms. She stressed that the division isn’t making anyone take the vaccination.

“It’s really up to the parents,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re being pressured.”

She said that the school division is just trying to prevent the spread of the flu.

“We don’t want anybody to get it,” Belle said.

Local health departments will begin holding vaccination clinics for the general population at a later date, according to Patel.

“The main focus right now is to reach the priority groups,” he said.

Besides school-aged children, other priority groups for the vaccine are pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical services personnel and persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with a higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

The CDC recommends that the H1N1 vaccine be used in conjunction with, and not to replace, the traditional influenza vaccine.