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Officials prep for swine flu vaccinations

By By Kerry Whipple Bean
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 said Friday they hope to use schools a “mass vaccination clinics.”
Escambia County has seen at least eight 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.
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.
For schools already struggling with budget cuts and proration, officials said the flu vaccinations would not cause a burden.
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.
Last spring, when the H1N1 influenza infections arose, some Alabama schools were closed up to a week and state high school sports events cancelled or postponed because of fears of the spread of the disease.
New guidelines will allow local schools to make the determination whether to close based on how many students are sick or absent.
Morton did encourage parents and students to use a “common sense” approach to curbing the spread of the disease.
State Health Officer Dr. Donald Williamson said the state is also encouraging early immunization for seasonal flu.
Vaccinations for H1N1 influenza would likely come in two shots, health officials said.