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Schools to offer influenza vaccines

September 18, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Officials with Washington County Public Schools and the county's health department are hoping that at least half of the county's elementary school students will take advantage of free flu vaccines that are being offered this year.

Ed Masood, the schools' supervisor of health and physical education, fine arts and athletics, said he believes it is the first time a program of this type has been offered in the county.

All eligible Washington County public elementary school students ages 5 to 11 may be vaccinated against influenza. Students will be vaccinated using a nasal spray flu vaccine called FluMist.

FluMist is a new flu vaccine that was licensed in 2003 and is administered by a nasal spray instead of an injection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Participation is voluntary, and all students must have permission from a parent before receiving the vaccine, school officials said.

Vaccinations are planned for late October.

Rod MacRae, spokesman for the health department, said elementary school students were selected to be vaccinated because they are more easily infected.

"They tend to get flu more readily," he said. "And then spread it to their families."

The nasal-spray flu vaccine has three weakened, live influenza viruses. When the viruses are sprayed into the nose, they stimulate the body's immune system to develop protective antibodies that will prevent infection, according to data provided by the health department.

School systems in Calvert and Carroll counties piloted the state program last year, and all other Maryland counties have the opportunity to participate this year, he said. School officials recommend each county take advantage, but it is not mandated, according to a written release.

In Calvert and Carroll counties, fewer students were absent from school due to illness during flu season, MacRae said. These figures included elementary, middle and high school students. He said vaccinating elementary school students means they cannot go home and spread the flu to their brothers and sisters in middle and high school.

Letters with information about the vaccines were mailed to parents last week and should be received today or Tuesday, MacRae said.

By Oct. 1, parents will receive another letter that will include a parental consent form and information that must be returned to schools by Oct. 5. The vaccine is scheduled to be given to students and staff the week of Oct. 23. Makeup vaccines will be provided during the week of Oct. 30.

The vaccine also will be provided for elementary school teachers, support staff and parent volunteers younger than 49 years old.

Students younger than 9 years old will receive a booster in January, school officials said.

The health department has an information hot line about the FluMist nasal spray vaccine that will be available through Oct. 27. The FluMist hot line phone number is 240-313-3452.

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