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School flu clinics delayed

Although Alabama’s school-based H1N1 “swine” flu vaccination clinics have been postponed until late November, many parents have taken a proactive approach and are already getting their children vaccinated by local pediatricians.

Dr. Bhagwan Bang of Opp’s South Alabama Pediatrics said his office administers about 10 nasal mist H1N1 flu vaccines a day.

“The nasal mist is a live vaccine, so it can’t be given to people who have asthma or some other situations,” he said. “Those who have already had the confirmed swine flu won’t need to get a vaccine, but a lot of people who had ‘flu-like symptoms’ should still get the vaccine — there are many diseases that have ‘flu-like symptoms’ but aren’t really the flu.”

Earlier this year, state health department officials detailed a plan where Alabama school children would receive the vaccination at their respective schools. Parents would be given the opportunity to have their child opt out of the vaccinations, which were originally scheduled for early November in hopes of beating the Thanksgiving holiday — when social gatherings could escalate the spread of the virus.

However, state health department spokesman Dr. Jim McVay said this week that delays in producing the vaccine have forced the state to push back the date for the school-based clinics.

Andalusia Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said she was not surprised by the state’s decision to delay the clinics.

“The national news has been talking about delays, so I felt like our state might see a delay in receiving the vaccine as well,” she said. “I have heard there could be a second wave of flu, so I don’t think late November will be too late, when the vaccine is available.”

McAnulty also said that the city schools’ swine flu-related absences have tapered off.

Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart said many students in the schools have already contracted swine flu, but the majority have not and could benefit from the vaccination.

“One effect the delay has had is that I believe more parents are having second thoughts about vaccinating their child,” he said. “There is just so much conjecture about swine flu and the vaccination that parents are really unsure about what to do.”

McVay said production is going slower than expected, but the state still expects its promised 2.8 million doses of vaccine by the end of January. He added the state’s school vaccination clinics will be for children younger than 10, only.

State Health Officer Don Williamson said clinics for older children and staff will not be held until December and January.

Bang said his suggestion would be for parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.

“It takes a while for the vaccine to go into effect,” he said. “If you wait until November, it’s possible that you might catch the flu before you get the vaccine. I’d just suggest that parents get their kids the vaccine as soon as possible.”

Bang said he has also seen a large number of patients refuse the vaccine, even if they qualify.

“Twenty-five percent or so are opting not to take it,” he said. “There’s always the fear of a new vaccine, that we don’t know the side effects and that sort of thing. But the fact is, this vaccine is prepared exactly the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine and it’s completely safe.”