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‘Mass clinics’ for flu shots

Health officials are preparing for mass, voluntary H1N1 flu vaccinations of school children at area schools this fall.

While a vaccine for the influenza strain — also known as swine flu — has not yet been developed, state health and education officials and Friday they hope to use schools a “mass vaccination clinics.”

Covington County has seen at least 10 cases of H1N1 influenza this year, and the state has recorded more than 880 cases, including one death. The death rate across the country from the so-called swine flu is about on par with regular seasonal influenza.

The Centers for Disease Control has announced that the priority groups to receive the H1N1 vaccination are pregnant women and those age 6 months to 24 years. Alabama Department of Public Health officials are encouraging parents to get children vaccinated once the shots are available, likely in October.

Parents could get their children vaccinated at a family physician’s office or through the school.

Health officials emphasized that the vaccinations would be voluntary, not mandatory.

“No one’s going to make your child have a vaccination,” said Dr. Charles Woernle, assistant state health officer for disease and prevention.

Parents would be required to sign a permission slip before students could receive a vaccination at school, officials said.

Schools have the manpower available to perform the vaccinations, said state schools Superintendent Joe Morton.

“We have about 1,500 schools and 1,300 school nurses,” Morton said. “We’ve been in contact with the Board of Nurses for volunteers, so I think manpower will not be an issue.”

For schools already struggling with budget cuts and proration, officials said the flu vaccinations would not cause a burden.

“This is not a cost factor issue,” Morton said. “The vaccine will be paid for by the federal government. This will not be an expense out of pocket.”

The CDC has also announced new guidelines that reduce the amount of time students and school staff with flu-like symptoms should stay home from school. Based on current flu conditions, the CDC said, sick students and staff should stay home until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever without the use of medication.

Vaccinations for H1N1 influenza would likely come in two shots, health officials said.