Some D.C. Schools to Give H1N1 Vaccine This Month

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

Students at some D.C. public schools will be able to get vaccinated against swine flu this month, and immunizations for students are expected to be available citywide in November, according to a plan health officials made public this week.

The six-week plan begins with the assumption that the vaccine for the H1N1 virus, better known as swine flu, will be available Monday. If the vaccine arrives on time, it will first be distributed to health workers across the city. For a two-week period beginning Oct. 19, it will be given to D.C. public schools that have staff nurses, for in-school vaccinations. During the final period, starting Nov. 1, the vaccine would be available to the remaining students in the D.C. school system as well as those from private schools in the District.

During the final period, high schools across the city -- Coolidge, Wilson, Cardozo, Dunbar, Eastern, Ballou and H.D. Woodson -- will serve as mass vaccination clinics for all students. Vaccinations will also be offered at some D.C. community and recreation centers.

The vaccinations are free and voluntary, but health officials have encouraged children and young people to get them because the population most vulnerable to H1N1 are those who are 6 months to 24 years old. Vaccinations of the young have also been shown to be key in stopping the wider spread of influenza.

But Peter Branch, the head of Georgetown Day School, said he was frustrated that private schools would not have access to the vaccine until after many other schools had received it.

"It is distressing to see that we would not be eligible to receive the vaccine until, really, week five of the rollout," Branch said, noting that his 1,060-student school has health workers who could administer the vaccinations if they were given supplies.

"From the point of view of public health and safety, if you're trying to roll this out to as many susceptible students as possible, it would make sense to make it readily available to the sites where those kids are," Branch said. "I really don't understand the rationale for the discrimination in the timing that has been laid out."

A spokeswoman for the D.C. Health Department said the limited supply of vaccine that would be initially available restricted where it would be administered in the program's first weeks.

Diane Helentjaris, director of Virginia's H1N1 office, said the state has ordered 43,500 doses of the vaccine so far. Those are first being given to hospitals and local health departments. She said she expected the vaccine to be available to health-care workers within a week, and quantities are expected to ramp up quickly thereafter.

Maryland ordered fewer than 100,000 doses of the vaccine for the first week it will be available, when the vaccine will be in short supply and will go primarily to health-care workers who have direct contact with patients.

Plans call for distribution in Maryland to be increased to provide vaccinations to an estimated 2.9 million people in the state who are at risk for complications from the virus -- mostly children, pregnant women and people with underlying medical conditions, said Frances Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Phillips said students would begin getting the vaccine in the latter half of October. She said some private schools made their own arrangements independently of public schools, but others were looking for help and would get it.

"It will be open at the same time to public- and private-school kids," Phillips said. Different jurisdictions will establish their own schedules, integrating public- and private-school students.

In Fairfax County, only public schools will be used as mass immunization clinics, but private-school students will have access to the clinics, said Glen Barbour, a spokesman for the county's health department.

"All students would be eligible at the same time," Barbour said, adding that residency will not be checked, so students could theoretically come from outside the county. Barbour said the mass clinics probably would be at eight to 24 middle schools across the county, depending partly on how much vaccine the county receives.

In Alexandria, Lisa Kaplowitz, director of the Health Department, said vaccine distribution would vary among schools, with some private ones making their own arrangements.

"I think each private school is going to be different in terms of their needs, so we are going to work with them individually," she said. "Our goal is to get the vaccine as rapidly as possible to the school-age children. . . . We've tried to be very sensitive to the schools, because quite frankly there would be concerns if we focused on schools in one part of the city versus another part of the city."

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