Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Students 1st in line for flu vaccine:


By MARY SHEDDEN | The Tampa Tribune

Published: September 8, 2009

TAMPA - Health officials fighting seasonal and swine flu outbreaks are taking aim at a major source of infection: children.

Elementary-age children attending Hillsborough and Pinellas county public schools are eligible for a federal stimulus program that will pay to vaccinate children from seasonal flu. Also, statewide efforts are under way to provide the separate swine flu vaccine free of charge to all school-age children.

Both programs are voluntary and will require parents to consent and provide detailed health information in advance. Information about the programs will be distributed through each school.

"If we can get [the shots] all done by Christmas, it will be a miracle," said Margaret Ewen, immunization program manager for the Hillsborough County Health Department.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual seasonal flu vaccines for most children older than 6 months. And this year, the CDC has identified children 6 months and older, and students up to age 24, as key groups needing a separate vaccination for the fast-spreading swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus.

Getting large participation, however, is unlikely, based on previous participation in seasonal flu vaccine programs. The CDC estimates that just 21 percent of healthy children ages 5 to 17 got a seasonal flu vaccination in 2007. Ewen said she is hopeful that 30,000 of the 100,000 elementary-age children in Hillsborough County will participate.

The seasonal flu vaccine, which comes in both a nasal spray and injection form, will be administered in public schools soon, as the vaccine is now widely available. The swine flu vaccine, which will likely be administered in two doses 21 days apart, is expected to be distributed starting in October.

Juan Dumois, director of pediatric infectious diseases at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, said parents don't see any type of flu as a serious illness. "There's a misconception that the flu is a mild illness like the cold," he said.

But while the vast majority of flu cases are mild, and run their course in a few days, the flu can grow serious very quickly, especially for children and those with asthma, neuromuscular and other respiratory diseases.

A CDC study released late last week found that of the 36 U.S. pediatric deaths from swine flu, two-thirds of the children had underlying diseases such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. CDC Director Thomas Frieden said children with these special needs should get vaccinated for swine flu and avoid contact with people with flu-like symptoms: a fever, sore throat and cough.

"Make sure they are at the front of the line when (H1N1) vaccines become available," he said of the flu responsible for more than 500 deaths nationwide since it appeared this spring.

Also, vaccinating children can have a positive effect far beyond the classroom, said Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. Children are a major carrier of respiratory viruses, so vaccinating them can protect people with existing illnesses, such as the elderly.

"A great way to protect Grandma is to vaccinate all the kids," he said.

Vaccinations are not embraced by all parents. Some believe injecting children may do more harm than good. Ewen said that's why the flu vaccine programs are voluntary.

"The vaccine is not giving you the flu. We're trying to prevent it," she said. "The vaccine is the single most effective way to prevent the flu."

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