In one of the first efforts of its kind, the Madison County Public Schools are making free H1N1 vaccines available to all students during the school day.
"This is the age group that is most affected," said Erin Stewart, the school district's community education director. "It will definitely help the overall health of the community."
The shots will be given on-site, and the clinics are not open to the public. Students must have the signed consent of their parents.
The flu is making an impact on schools across the state, with some 37 of Kentucky's 174 districts having closed for illness so far this year, according to statistics from the state's Department of Public Health. Those districts are spread over 32 counties.
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While most who get the H1N1 flu exhibit symptoms similar to those of the seasonal flu, the virus does spread rapidly because of a lack of general immunity. This is especially true among school-aged children.
School districts are being encouraged to get students vaccinated, but how vaccine is delivered will vary widely because of how the distribution system works, said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.
First, the federal government supplies the vaccine to the state. The state doles out vaccine to individual health districts based on a population formula. Health departments decide how to best get the vaccine out into the community.
In Madison County, health and school officials agreed that in-school clinics were the way to go.
It's not that there is an abundance of vaccine, it's just that vaccinating school children has been made a priority, said Christie Green, a spokeswoman for the Madison County Health Department.
Students from across the school district with chronic illnesses will be vaccinated on Friday. There is a plan to go to every district school next week. The health department is also working to vaccinate children at Berea Community School, Model Laboratory School, St. Mark Catholic School and Bluegrass Christian Academy.
Hughes said limited supply is keeping some districts from planning in-school clinics. Jefferson County, for example, scrapped plans because of a limited amount of vaccine.
Some 3,000 of Madison County's 10,000 students have returned consent forms, said Green, about 10 percent fewer than originally anticipated. The health department has about 2,000 doses of the vaccine, some of which are allocated to other high-risk groups such as health care workers, she said. All students with consent forms will be vaccinated, she said, although it might take several weeks.
Oldham County also has a plan to give shots in school. In-school clinics are scheduled for the district's middle and high schools for early December, said Melanie Dowdy, director of school health services.
"We felt like it was important to have a convenient way to get it done," she said. "Parents can't always leave work" to get to vaccinations clinics.
There will be after-school clinics at the district's elementary schools. Dowdy said officials felt it was best for younger children to have their parents with them when they get the shots. She's unsure how many of Oldham's 12,000 students will get vaccinated.
School-day clinics were not presented as an option to Fayette County Public Schools, said spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall.
Instead, weekend clinics are being held using school facilities, said Lexington-Fayette County Health Department spokesman Kevin Hall. Health officials thought the weekend clinics were the best way to reach the most people. And, he said, vaccine supply is an issue. There simply isn't enough vaccine available to offer shots to all 36,000 students in Fayette's 56 schools.
Vaccine shortages are influencing discussions across the state. Jessamine County Public Schools, for example, has been in discussion with the local health department about the possibility of vaccinating students during the school day, said deputy superintendent Owen Saylor.
Jessamine schools have not yet closed because of the flu, he said, although attendance dipped before fall break in early October. Usually the percentage of students in attendance is in the 90-percent range. Before a recent fall break, that number had slipped into the 80-percent range.
But, Saylor said, it doesn't make sense to make an offer you can't complete.
"What we don't want to do is put something in the works and not have enough vaccine," he said.