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Fears, tears, grins greet swine flu shots

With the sound of schoolmates sniffling and crying all around him, 5-year-old Santos Duran bravely sat in his mom's lap in the band room at Forts Pond Elementary School and awaited his swine flu shot.

A hint of apprehension crossed his face as the needle neared his arm, but Santos hardly flinched at the stick. Then a grin crossed his face. "That didn't hurt at all," he told his mother, Janet Washington.

Others at the Pelion-area school were less stoic, but most of the youngsters were smiling before the end of the mandatory 15-minute wait at the post-shot comfort station. Hugs from parents and teachers, along with candy suckers, Scooby Doo graham cracker cookies and apple juice, helped dry the tears at one of the first in-school vaccination clinics in the Midlands.

Lexington 1 started its vaccination program at Forts Pond and Pelion elementary schools Monday, with plans to give nearly 570 shots for the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. Parents earlier had filled out permission slips allowing district and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control nurses to administer vaccine to about 50 percent of the 1,148 students in the two schools.

The response was higher than the 30 percent approval expected by district officials, said spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill.

Parents were allowed to accompany their children into the clinic. By 8 a.m. Monday, dozens of parents sat outside the Forts Pond band room, where four inoculation stations were set up.

"Our daughter was very, very nervous," said Johnnette Murray. "Her heart was pounding."

"She was like a zombie all morning," John Murray said.

The Murrays have read reports of healthy children dying from swine flu, and they didn't want to take any chances with their daughter, Tayler, 9.

"Afterward, she'll say 'That wasn't nothing,'" John Murray said.

A few minutes later, Tayler trudged down the hall from class, a look of dread on her round face. She broke out in a huffy cry by the time she sat in her father's lap for the shot, and tears began to run down her cheeks.

"If you tighten up your arm muscle, it'll hurt," said Heather Jackson, the Pelion Middle School nurse administering Tayler's shot. "Can you relax?"

Tayler tried to relax, but then started crying harder when she saw the needle. Then, in an instant, the deed was done.

"It's over," said Johnnette.

"Wasn't nothing to it, was it?" John asked.

Through her tears, Tayler agreed with her dad. After a few minutes in the comfort area, she was all smiles, ready to go back to the classroom and tell the other third-graders it wasn't too bad.

Most other districts in the Midlands will be using the same format as Lexington 1, offering shots in school during the school day. Lexington 3 plans to do all of its shots after school at Batesburg-Leesville High School on Nov. 18.

To deal with a shortage of vaccine and nurses, the process is being spread out over several weeks. The first round of in-school clinics should be done by early December. Children 9 and younger will have to come back for a second shot to build immunity to the H1N1 virus, but those 10 and older need only one.

Health officials recommend youngsters also get a seasonal flu shot. Those aren't being offered in most schools, but DHEC officials say the H1N1 vaccination program could be used as a model for in-school seasonal flu shots in the future.

The H1N1 virus has been blamed in the deaths of 20 people in South Carolina since Sept. 1, including three people 18 or younger. More than 50 percent of the H1N1-related hospitalizations in the state since Sept. 1 have been children, according to DHEC statistics. That's a stark contrast to typical seasonal flu, which usually hits senior citizens much harder than youngsters.

The unusual characteristics of the H1N1 virus prompted DHEC to go with in-school vaccinations to best reach an at-risk group.

The other groups at highest risk - pregnant women, health care workers and people under age 50 with underlying health concerns such as asthma or diabetes - should start seeing more H1N1 vaccines available at county health clinics and private health care providers. The Richland and Lexington counties health clinics haven't publicized H1N1 shot availability, but some people in the high at-risk groups say they have been able to get shots from the limited supply at those clinics.

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