Schools work on flu shot plans

Most local districts expect to begin vaccinating students in early November

jholleman@thestate.comOctober 19, 2009 

Local districts are fine-tuning plans to offer swine flu inoculations in public schools, and students could begin bringing home information letters and permission forms in the next two weeks, district officials said.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is beginning to stockpile vaccine - both injectable and the nasal mist - for use in schools, according to spokesman Thom Berry. But the launch date for the school vaccine program - once optimistically set at Oct. 26 - could be pushed back.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that production of the vaccine is running about 25 percent behind projections, in part because of efforts to ensure the safety of the product.

Local districts say the more realistic starting dates would be either Nov. 2 or Nov. 9.

With some vaccine already arriving at county health centers and private physician practices, parents have to decide whether to rush to get their children shots at one of those locations or wait for the convenience of the school programs.

Two factors to consider: The school shots will be free, but shots won't be offered to parents and non-school-age siblings at most school sites.

Midlands school districts hope to work out the details of their programs in the next few days. Liability concerns kept the plans on hold until a memorandum of agreement with DHEC was worked out late last week, district officials said.

As of Friday, a handful of the state's 85 school districts still hadn't signed the legal agreement, and DHEC officials were working to iron out the districts' final concerns.

"We want the school districts to do it the way they feel most comfortable," Berry said.

Richland 1 is among the districts that haven't signed a memorandum of agreement yet, but the district expects to sign the document early next week, said spokeswoman Karen York.

Some districts are offering their facilities and turning over the process to DHEC personnel. Others are using their school nurses in teams with DHEC personnel. The state has hired additional nurses for the school inoculations, Berry said.

The tentative plan at Lexington 1, for instance, calls for teams of two nurses and one clerical worker from DHEC and three to five school nurses working at each inoculation site. Spreading its nurses around, the district hopes to provide shots at two or more schools each day, said district spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill.

Lexington 1 plans to offer the inoculations during school hours, with the possibility of also offering them on two Saturdays at the larger high schools.

The process could take several weeks in large districts. And children younger than 10 need to get two shots, at least three weeks apart. That means the inoculations will continue into December.

Lexington-Richland 5 hopes to begin the first round of shots Nov. 9, allowing time to finish that round by Thanksgiving break, said spokesman Buddy Price. Younger children would get their second shots before Christmas break.

Children will not be required to get the shots. In fact, they won't be allowed to get shots unless a parent or guardian signs a permission form.

"It's completely up to the family whether they want to do this," said Jim Hinton, spokesman for Lexington 2. "We're not going to pressure people either way, but we want to make it available because it's a health and safety issue."

The CDC says people ages 2-24 are among the highest priority in the inoculation program. The H1N1 virus, commonly called swine flu, has affected young people more often and more severely than seasonal flu normally does. In the past five weeks, swine flu has been blamed for the deaths of 43 people younger than 18. That's nearly as many as during the eight-week peak of seasonal flu last winter, and experts expect the swine flu peak to continue for months.

Also, about half of the child deaths reported since Sept. 1 have been among teenagers. Until now, much of the attention has focused on younger children.

Despite the production delays, the CDC expects to have enough vaccine (about 11.4 million doses) for everyone who wants to get vaccinated. People low on the priority lists - those over 50 or otherwise healthy - might have to wait a few weeks for their chance, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.

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