- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009

Public health officials and educators in the D.C. region are making swine flu preparations for the coming academic year, including possibly administering vaccinations to students.

School administrators and health departments say they are waiting on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on when vaccines will be available, where they should be distributed and who should give them out. Federal health officials are expected to begin shipments in mid-October.

Last week, about 700 health and school officials from across the nation joined an online seminar by the National Association of County & City Health Officials on how to run school flu vaccinations. If vaccinations go forward, children are to be among the first in line. They could get vaccine at a variety of places, but federal officials want schools to play a starring role.

Dr. Anne Schuchat of CDC said it should be relatively easy for schools to offer flu-shot clinics because the federal government would be buying swine flu vaccine and sending it free to states. She also said that school-age children “don’t see doctors very often.”

“The vaccine over time will be available to every child,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with Associated Press. “And I personally think the best place for them to have access would be at their local school or at a school in their neighborhood.”

In the District, city health officials said they have not finalized vaccinations plans, but they said school-age children are among the priority groups to receive them.

School systems say that while they are hoping to keep schools open, they are taking steps to keep instruction going — for example, via the Internet — in case they have to close. Federal officials said last week schools should close only as a last resort. The rise of the never-before-seen flu strain last spring prompted more than 700 schools to temporarily close.

Glen Barbour, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Health Department, said officials are waiting on federal health officials regarding vaccinations, but are moving forward with other measures. Mr. Barbour said the department is considering various scenarios as it plans for the coming school year in a district that has 169,000 students.

“We’re planning for all possibilities so once we get the plan we can implement it quickly,” he said.

Schools are considering how and where to keep sick students while they wait for parents to pick them up. For instance, one option might be to ask a student to don a mask. The length of time a sickened child has to be away from school also has been shortened since the spring, with children now being allowed to return to school within 24 hours after a fever has ceased, local health officials said.

Mr. Barbour said parents are being asked not to send their children to school if they have a fever. Schools also have been educating parents about the signs and symptoms of swine flu for months.

At school, if students have a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, they will be kept in the nurse’s office or in a location away from others until their parents come, Mr. Barbour said. He said in the short term, it’s important for everyone to get a regular flu shot.

Meanwhile, in Montgomery County, school system spokeswoman Kate Harrison said schools are expected to come up with individual swine flu-related plans for the fall in the 140,000-student school system.

“We have been discussing logistical issues over the summer. Every school has been charged with having a plan,” Miss Harrison said.

Teachers there have been asked to come up with lessons over the summer that could be put online and made as hard-copy packets if schools have to close.

“We’re hoping we don’t have to close schools, but if health officials advise that we do, we want to make sure students have an opportunity to keep learning when they’re at home,” Miss Harrison said.

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