The swine flu vaccine will be distributed when it becomes available to every student in Howard County with parental consent, the county's health officer said last week.
Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said the process probably would occur in early November and would take two weeks. Parents must give written permission for their children to receive the vaccine.
"It's always going to be the parents' choice," said Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the county school system. "We have to have a signed form from the parent in order to get the vaccine."
County health and school officials say they have been meeting weekly since August to develop a plan to distribute the vaccine once it becomes available.
"We hope the H1N1 vaccine arrives quickly because we are ready to go," Caplan said.
"We don't have any firm dates yet," she added. "We're hoping to hear shortly."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said late last week that a limited amount of the vaccine will begin arriving this week in the state in the form of nasal spray, which is safe for children. Maryland health officials expect that the swine flu shots will be available in the coming weeks.
Hiring enough staff to work the 103 projected clinics in Howard County, including in some schools, is expected to cost about $600,000, according to Beilenson. The money will come from the county Health Department's Public Health Emergency Fund.
The county's efforts coincide with the death of an eighth-grader in Baltimore, who died last week of H1N1. She was the second child in the state to die of swine flu and the first with no apparent underlying medical condition.
Since August, there have been three swine flu-related hospitalizations in Howard County, Beilenson said, but no one has died or spent time in an intensive-care unit.
School officials are more concerned with students missing classes, Caplan said.
"Cases in the United States have been no more severe than the seasonal flu," Caplan said. "People have had complications or other health issues that have compromised them."
The school system's maintenance department has not taken any special precautions or made any special cleaning efforts as a result of H1N1, she said.
"We continue to follow the CDC's recommendations for staff to clean areas that come into contact," Caplan said. "The CDC does not recommend that we use bleach."
Meanwhile officials have been reminding students to cough into their sleeves and to stay home if they are sick.
"We are really stressing that this year," Caplan said.
The school system has been keeping daily tabs on flu-related absences, she said.
The school system has had three instances this school year in which a school had a rate of absence that exceeded 10 percent, the level when system officials notify the Health Department.
Two weeks ago, Mayfield Woods Middle School had two days with absences exceeding 10 percent. Last week, Oakland Mills High School reported one day with absences above 10 percent.
So far, swine flu seems to be affecting students more than staff, Caplan said.
"We haven't heard that there has been larger than usual requests for substitutes," she said. "We feel that we are in real good shape."