Schools to distribute nasal flu vaccine to eligible pupils

County's elementary-age children to get immunized

officials hope it will boost attendance, families' health

October 09, 2005|By GINA DAVIS AND KATIE MARTIN | GINA DAVIS AND KATIE MARTIN,SUN REPORTERS

Because Chris Snively works with elementary school pupils and has two young children of her own, she knows the unmistakable signs of the flu - the coughing, the fever and the unrelenting muscle aches.

So when Piney Ridge Elementary School in Sykesville offered FluMist - a needle-free nasal vaccine - last fall to pupils and staff as part of a University of Maryland School of Medicine study, Snively and her daughter, Haven, tried it.

"We were all very healthy and we didn't miss any days of school," said Snively, a guidance counselor at Piney Ridge, where her daughter is in first grade. "The whole family had the healthiest winter, and I think it was because we were able to get" the vaccine.

After two years in the medical school's study - and with reports like the Snivelys - Carroll school officials this year are expanding the vaccination effort, which is no longer part of a study, to all eligible pupils in the district's 22 public elementary schools.

The program - which began in 2003 with pupils at Elmer Wolfe Elementary in Union Bridge, the only school in the nation at the time where children were receiving the vaccination - last year included pupils at Elmer Wolfe, Piney Ridge and William Winchester in Westminster.

This year, Calvert County is the only other district in the state offering a FluMist vaccination program, said Larry L. Leitch, Carroll's health officer.

MedImmune Inc., a Gaithersburg-based pharmaceutical company, has donated enough of the vaccine for more than 12,000 pupils in Carroll. Two years ago, the Federal Food and Drug Administration approved the use of FluMist for healthy people ages 5 to 49.

School officials, who hope to reach about 7,000 children, said last week that about 30 percent of the county's elementary school pupils have signed up for the voluntary program.

Registered nurses and physician volunteers are scheduled to vaccinate the children Oct. 20. A second dose will be administered in early December to pupils younger than 9.

Members of the state Emergency Preparedness and Response Team will help out as a practice drill for mass vaccinations, organizers said. The school system, state Health Department, University of Maryland School of Medicine and Carroll Hospital Center are also working on the project.

"There is a real public health benefit. Usually, when flu starts in the family, it is brought home from the child in elementary school," Leitch said. "With this program, we could cut down on influenza this winter."

In the 2003 phase of the study, the absenteeism rates of vaccinated children at Elmer Wolfe were compared with absences of children at two other Carroll County schools where children did not receive the vaccine.

The vaccination effort reduced attendance problems during that year's flu season, said Steven H. Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration.

Dr. James King, clinical researcher and professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said vaccinating school children helps reduce the spread of the flu.

"It's an incredible problem that most people say they just have to live with. We think you don't have to live with it," King said. "You can vaccinate against it."

The typical child misses three days of school because of the flu, and 20 percent to 50 percent of children get the flu each year, King said.

Some parents have expressed concerns about the school-based immunizations because of fears that the live, but weakened, viruses in the spray will spread from the kids who have been vaccinated to those who haven't.

"It takes a million live vaccine viruses to infect a person," King said. "When [the vaccine viruses] set up infection in your nose, it's a really low level. It will be very, very hard to spread this virus."

At Piney Ridge, Principal Cynthia McCabe said that "quite a few students" were vaccinated with the FluMist last year and that she was impressed with the results. She credits the vaccine with helping to keep everyone at the school healthier.

"We had our highest attendance rate in years," she said. "We had a lot less overall sickness among students and faculty."

Patricia W. Gadberry, recently appointed to the school board and the parent of a Piney Ridge pupil, said she was excited to hear that this year the program was being offered to all of the county's elementary schools.

"I've already sent back the [consent] form for my daughter to have it again this year," said Gadberry, who was also allowed to be vaccinated last year because she was a substitute teacher at Piney Ridge. Her daughter, Amy, 9, is a fourth-grader at the school.

Gadberry said the nurses who administered the vaccine were patient and helpful.

"They were really good with the kids," she said. "My daughter, who was in the third grade then, was like, `That was no big deal.' She'll get it again this year."

gina.davis@baltsun.com katie.martin@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

FLU SHOTS

To receive the vaccine, a pupil must be in good health and meet the following criteria:

Be 5 years or older

Have no medically significant or long-term illness or immune system problem

Have no history of severe allergy to egg products

Not be taking medicine containing aspirin

Have no history of Guillain-Barre syndrome

Have not had an allergic reaction to a nasal flu vaccine

Not be scheduled to receive any vaccines for the month after vaccination

Not be living with anyone who has severe immune problems because of bone-marrow transplantation, intense chemotherapy or advanced AIDS/HIV infection

[Carroll County school system]

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