School nurses partner with public health coalition to provide school flu vaccines

From Staff Reports
Ten Coweta schools will have flu mist available this month.
The Georgia Association of School Nurses (GASN) is partnering with state public health stakeholders to hold flu immunization clinics for children, teachers and staff at schools, beginning in early October. Georgia’s school flu immunization clinics will offer both the traditional intramuscular shot and the painless intranasal mist version. (Pregnant school staff plus children and adults with certain health conditions, such as asthma or weakened immune systems, should not receive the inhalant because it utilizes a live virus.)
The program will bill insurance for administering the flu vaccination when a child is insured, but uninsured children can receive the vaccination at the school clinics at no cost.
While not every school will hold a flu clinic, 17 of 18 Georgia health districts have committed to the program, which was spearheaded by the Georgia Department of Public Health. Parents should receive a letter if their school will be offering a flu vaccination clinic.
The Coweta County Health Department will be on site at 10 Coweta elementary schools to deliver the flu mist to students on certain dates. The participating schools this year are: Arnco, Atkinson, Eastside, Glanton, Jefferson Parkway, Moreland, Poplar Road, Ruth Hill, Welch and Western Elementary Schools.

The goal is to increase vaccine coverage for the school population and to reduce related illnesses and school absenteeism, says GASN President Carol Darsey, who is also lead nurse for the Liberty County School System. Receiving the annual shot early in the fall means kids have maximum protection before flu shows up in their community, she adds. In addition to vaccination for flu prevention, to maintain good health, school nurses encourage daily activities like hand washing, covering the nose and mouth with a tissue during a cough or sneeze (or cough into an elbow if tissue is not available), and to check with a doctor about taking antiviral medications if a influenza-like illness develops.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that everyone over age six months receive a flu vaccination every year. For most people, the flu means high fever, body aches and lost productivity, but up to 49,000 Americans die from it each year.

It is especially important to get vaccinated this year because two of the three virus strains in this vaccine differ from the strains in last year’s vaccine, says Darsey. This year’s flu vaccine is formulated to protect against only one ingredient retained from last year’s, protection against the last H1N1 (A/California/7/2009) strain that caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic and has been the main kind of influenza circulating since. New in this year’s shot is protection against two new strains: H3N2 (A/Victoria/361/2011)-like virus, and the B/Wisconsin/1/ 2010-like virus. Immunization, however, only protects for 12 months, so annual vaccinations are crucial.

Seeking ways to boost vaccination rates among school-aged children, a coalition of public health stakeholders was established, including the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), CDC, the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, GASN, Emory University School of Nursing, the Georgia State University School of Nursing and the Public Health Division of MedImmune, a primary pharmaceutical provider of flu vaccines.

Preventable illnesses, such as flu, are the number one reason for school absences in Georgia, and missing more than five days away from school annually, regardless of the cause, impacts student academic performance, according to a recent Georgia Department of Education study. Darsey says, “While flu vaccines are available at doctors’ offices, drug stores and community clinics, studies have shown that children are more likely to get immunized when clinics are offered at school.”

Annie Washington, RN, BHS, county nurse manager for the Liberty County Health Department, agrees with Darsey. She says the school clinic is more convenient for most parents than the traditional doctor’s office or pharmacy, and believes that she will see an increase of 50-75% of students receiving the vaccination at school over last year. She estimates that 2,200 vaccines were administered in Liberty County schools last year.

According to Darsey, children can be more vulnerable to severe flu complications and also can pass the disease to classmates who may be immuno-compromised, as well as to other high-risk populations, such as students with diabetes and asthma, infant siblings and elderly relatives.

“The vaccinations serve as a booster for good health for the entire community, and good health allows students to be able to learn and be productive in school,” Washington states. “Flu vaccinations are prevention, and prevention is the key to good health care,” she adds.

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