R.I. flu-vaccine campaign to be waged in all schools

Rhode Island children will be offered flu vaccines in their schools this year, as the state Department of Health launches a new approach to fighting influenza that it hopes to make an annual routine.

The program aims to duplicate the success of Rhode Island’s campaign against H1N1 swine flu last year, which included school-based clinics that vaccinated three-quarters of the state’s school-aged children, the highest rate in the nation. But it is also intended to prevent the spread of influenza to adults.

“Children are the vectors for distribution of flu illness in a community,” said Dr. Elizabeth B. Lange, immediate past president of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They get all of us parents and grandparents sick.”

One vaccine will protect against both the seasonal flu strains and H1N1. Clinics will be held in private, parochial and public schools from early October through December. No one will be required to get a shot, and no student will have to pay. Pediatricians are also receiving supplies of the vaccine, so parents who would rather take their children to the doctor will face no restrictions.

“This is another option to offer parents,” said Health Department spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth.

Rhode Island’s effort is probably unique: health officials have not heard of any other state carrying out statewide school-based flu clinics, Beardsworth said.

“Children should have many options to obtain the vaccine,” Lange said. “Between primary care offices and school clinics … the goal is to get children protected.” Because they have lived through fewer winters and have less immunity to influenza, children often get much sicker than adults when they come down with flu, Lange said.

The state has ordered 181,400 doses of pediatric flu vaccine, a mixture of the nasal spray and the injection. Of those, nearly 40,000 have already been distributed to providers.

Last year, Rhode Island had the nation’s highest percentage of citizens vaccinated against H1N1. The school-based clinics were credited with a large part of that success. Maine and Vermont also held statewide vaccination efforts in schools and were among the top-ranking states.

But this year’s clinics will differ in some ways. Last year the school-based clinics were the only place where children 6 to 18 could be vaccinated until January when doctors had enough doses. This year, parents are free to use either school clinics or doctor’s offices.

Last year’s clinics were run by a cadre of 750 volunteer medical professionals. This year, the Wellness Company, a vaccine provider with experience running clinics in drugstores and senior centers, will conduct the school-based clinics. The Health Department, which obtains vaccine through a federal program, will distribute the doses to the Wellness Company.

Providence Journal

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