By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 10, 2009
D'Angelo Greene sat down in the school cafeteria in Landover on Friday morning to do his public health duty. A nurse put a plastic sprayer up one of D'Angelo's nostrils, then the other. Into each went 0.1 milliliter of Influenza A H1N1 vaccine.
And so the Prince George's County 12-year-old joined the first wave of students in the Washington area to be inoculated against swine flu as federal, state and local officials kicked off a health campaign that will reach into campuses nationwide.
"Piece of cake," D'Angelo said afterward. "It was, like, fast." He confessed that the mist felt a bit "funny when she sprayed it." But a quick wipe with a tissue took care of that.
Officials converged on the event at Dodge Park Elementary School to dispel public doubts about getting vaccinated. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said nine people in the state have died of swine flu this year, including two children. He called it a "serious public health threat."
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, "Schools will be a huge part of the distribution process" for the vaccine. "If we want students to be safe, schools are part of the answer."
School vaccination clinics will get underway this month in several parts of the Washington area. People 6 months to 24 years old are considered an at-risk group as the virus spreads.
"Given the fact that kids are enormously potent carriers of any germs, we needed to get to the schools," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Sebelius said she understood the reluctance of some parents who don't want "to experiment with" their children. But Sebelius stressed that the vaccine is not experimental and the risk of not getting inoculated is significant because the virus can lead to serious illness or death.
Dodge Park Elementary has about 500 students from prekindergarten through sixth grade. Parents or guardians of 90 of those students have turned in consent forms for the swine flu vaccine, Principal Judith J. White said. School officials hope more parents will follow suit as awareness of the vaccination campaign grows, White said.
For educators, the vaccination campaign is important for another reason: It helps keep schools open. In the spring, many schools were closed for days at a time as swine flu spread across the country for the first time. This fall, educators hope to avoid widespread shutdowns.
The latest Education Department data show that more than 400 schools have been closed at some point this school year because of flu outbreaks, which affected about 75,000 students.
Federal officials say that of the 7,500 largest school systems, about 1,900 have prepared to offer school-based vaccinations.
In the Washington area, school officials stressed this week that some details of on-campus vaccinations are in flux, but they gave these tentative schedules:
-- Loudoun County plans to begin clinics Oct. 16 in elementary schools, then move into secondary schools;
-- The District plans to begin them during the week of Oct. 19;
-- Fairfax County will offer clinics Oct. 24-25; and
-- Arlington County plans them about the end of October.
School officials in Montgomery and Howard counties said they had no tentative dates for vaccination clinics.