MACON, GA…The Georgia Association of School Nurses (GASN) is partnering with state public health stakeholders to hold flu immunization clinics for children, teachers and staff at schools, beginning in early October.
The goal is to increase vaccine coverage for the school population and to reduce related illness and school absenteeism, says GASN President Carol Darsey, who is also lead nurse for the Liberty County School System. Receiving the annual shot early in the fall means kids have maximum protection before flu shows up in their community, she adds.
While not every school will hold a flu clinic, 17 of 18 Georgia health districts have committed to the program, which was spearheaded by the Georgia Department of Public Health. During the last school year (2010-11), 16 health districts participated, holding 859 school-based flu immunization clinics, and 75,597 doses (58,162 mist and 17,435 injectable) were administered.
Preventable illnesses, such as flu, are the number one reason for school absences in Georgia, and missing more than five days away from school annually, regardless of the cause, impacts student academic performance, according to a recent Georgia Department of Education study. “Georgia schools were hit early and severely with influenza last fall,” Darsey says. “While flu vaccines are available at doctors’ offices, drug stores and community clinics, studies have shown that children are more likely to get immunized when clinics are offered at school.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that everyone over age 6 months receive a flu vaccination every year. For most people, the flu means high fever, body aches and lost productivity, but an average of 36,000 Americans die from it each year.
Children can be more vulnerable to severe flu complications and also can pass the disease to classmates who may be immuno-compromised, as well as to other high-risk populations, such as students with diabetes and asthma, infant siblings and elderly relatives, Darsey says.
This year’s flu vaccine is formulated to protect against the same three strains as last year (H1N1, H3N2 and a B-strain), which researchers predict are most likely to be prevalent over the next 12 months. Immunization, however, only protects for 12 months, so annual vaccinations are crucial.
Georgia’s school flu immunization clinics will offer both the traditional intramuscular shot and the painless intranasal mist version. However, pregnant school staff members and children and adults with certain health conditions, such as asthma or weakened immune systems, should not receive the inhalant because it utilizes a live virus.
The push for school-based flu immunization clinics has been led by Dr. Anil Mangla, Ph.D., MPH, Director for the Infectious Disease and Immunization Program of University of Georgia School of Public Health and a senior epidemiologist in the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Program. Seeking ways to boost vaccination rates among school-aged children, he established a coalition of public health stakeholders, including the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), CDC, the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, GASN, Emory University School of Nursing, the Georgia State University School of Nursing and the Public Health Division of MedImmune, a primary pharmaceutical provider of flu vaccines.
In summer 2010, GASN also formed an Immunization Task Force. Its goal is to ensure that the state’s K-12 students, teachers and staff have the highest rates of immunization compliance with CDC-recommended vaccines by 2016. In just one year, the task force has increased training opportunities and facilitated immunization education best practices among the state’s school nurses.
Parents should receive a letter if their school will be offering a flu vaccination clinic. Or to find out which local schools are participating, contact the district school health coordinator or lead nurse. The program will bill insurance for administering the flu vaccination when a child is insured, but uninsured children can receive the vaccination at the school clinics at no cost.