Elementary pupils line up for FluMist

Strategy is to give kids vaccine early and protect community from the flu

October 22, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

It's flu season in Carroll County.

Make that FluMist season.

Elementary pupils throughout the county lined up in their schools to inhale the nasal spray, a live flu vaccine that the district is offering for a second year.

The reasoning remains the same: Get the young early, and help a community avoid the flu bug.

"Children are the primary transmitters of flu in the community," said Dr. James King, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore who has studied the effects of the vaccine in Carroll County. "If you can vaccinate the kids, you're going to protect the whole community."

The school district estimates that this year about 5,600 elementary pupils will receive the vaccine.

Distribution of the vaccine started last week and will end tomorrow, said Stephen Guthrie, the county's assistant superintendent of administration.

District and health officials said they might have more evidence to bolster their efforts.

Last year, there was a drop in the usual number of absences in Carroll schools during flu season, which usually runs from November through March, King said.

"It's very easy to recognize when flu is in the community," King said. Emergency rooms are full. Absentee rates double or even triple the baseline of 2 to 3 percent, he said.

Last year, however, King said he saw fewer absences among vaccinated children in Carroll - in contrast to Frederick County, which did not offer the vaccine in schools.

He said he also observed an indirect benefit: Family members seemed to miss fewer days of work and school. And older students showed signs of a ripple effect, King said.

"We're pretty excited about this," he said.

Carroll's experience was one of the things that "really influenced our decision to go forward and offer it in all of our elementary schools," said Helen Monk, health specialist for Frederick County public schools. "It was just amazing ... how we had our normal spike, and they didn't have any spike" in absences during flu season.

The state's schools were given an additional boost last month, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced a plan to offer free vaccines to Maryland elementary pupils ages 5 to 11.

Gaithersburg-based MedImmune Inc., which manufactures the nasal spray, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among the entities donating the vaccine or funds for the initiative.

Whatever benefits adults see, the kids had their own views on the spray.

"It's easy," said Madison Clem, 8, a third-grader at Linton Springs Elementary School, after sliding off the stool that stood before a nurse administering the vaccine. "And it's not shots."

On Thursday morning, Madison and fellow pupils at the Sykesville school filed into a classroom where nurses waited with nasal syringes.

Some fidgeted nervously as they watched their peers get the vaccine. More than 300 children - nearly half the school - had parental consent to receive FluMist, said Stacy Hann, the school nurse.

"I have butterflies in my tummy," said Natalie Wilson, a second-grader, as she stood in line for her first encounter with the sprayed vaccine.

With each spritz from the syringe, her classmates blinked and sniffed. Some coughed, their cheeks turned red and their eyes watered.

But when Penny Bramlett, program supervisor for the county health department's maternal-child health programs, inserted the syringe into the 7-year-old's nostril and sprayed, Natalie's eyes didn't even water.

"Yuck," Natalie said after breathing it in, a common observation among her peers. She squinted as Bramlett squirted the liquid into her other nostril, then put a tissue to her nose to catch stray droplets.

One mother who brought her fifth-grader for FluMist clearly laid out her options.

"Did you want 10 seconds of something going down your throat, or did you want five days at home with a fever, aching, vomiting - not seeing your friends?" Heather Hayes had asked her daughter, Jessica, when they discussed the vaccine. "It's a no-brainer."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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