Hundreds of schools are heeding the government’s call to set up flu-shot clinics this fall, preparing for what could be the most widespread school vaccinations since the days of polio.
An Associated Press review of swine flu planning suggests there are nearly 3 million students in districts where officials want to offer the vaccine once federal health officials begin shipping it in mid-October.
Many more may get involved: The National Schools Boards Association said three-quarters of the districts in a recent survey agreed to allow vaccinations in school buildings.
In South Carolina, “there will be a massive attempt to use schools as vaccination centers,” said state Superintendent Jim Rex. He plans at least one vaccination clinic in each of the state’s 85 school districts.
South Dakota started offering free children’s vaccination against regular winter flu in 2007, and this year it plans to offer both kinds in many schools, said state Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth.
Now come the difficult details: figuring out all the logistics in giving squirmy youngsters a shot in the arm or a squirt in the nose.
That’s in addition to measures being taken to keep the swine flu virus from spreading inside schools and to keep sick kids at home.
Already, Lee County, Miss., schools have reported a few cases of swine flu the first week of school, and a Louisiana high school football team reported 20 players sick or recovering from it.
To make sure students wash their hands, Minneapolis schools have outfitted every restroom with tamperproof soap dispensers, so students don’t horse around with soap. And the district has a no-excuses policy to keep them filled.
“It sounds so simple, but it works,” district emergency management director Craig Vana said.
Bismarck, N.D., is insisting that parents keep feverish children home. “We’re going to have to be a little firmer on that this year than in the past,” Superintendent Paul Johnson said.
It can be hard to tell if a child has a bad cold or flu–and swine flu and regular flu share the same symptoms. For many schools, a 100-degree temperature automatically means sending a child home.
The goal is to keep schools open; federal officials said schools should close only as a last resort. The emergence of the never-before-seen flu strain last spring prompted more than 700 schools to temporarily close, giving students an unexpected vacation as parents scrambled to find child care.
Some big states, like California, Ohio, and Massachusetts, are focusing on those steps and not on vaccinations, because they don’t know how much vaccine the federal government will send or when it will arrive. Boston has decided against in-school vaccinations because an attempt at regular winter flu inoculations at a middle school last year flopped, and Dallas officials also have decided against school shots.
But hundreds of districts are preparing for vaccinations. At least 700 health and school officials joined an online seminar last week by the National Association of County and City Health Officials on how to run school flu vaccinations.
The government is awaiting results of vaccine studies that began last week before making a final decision on whether and how to offer swine-flu inoculations. If vaccinations go forward, children are to be among the first in line. They could get vaccine at a variety of places, but federal officials want schools to play a starring role.