- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attended one of the nation’s first school-based rollouts of swine flu vaccine Friday to emphasize the safety and importance of vaccinating children.

Mrs. Sebelius joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at Dodge Park Elementary School in Prince George’s County to allay concerns parents may have about vaccinating their children against the new flu, dubbed H1N1.

“We know the vaccine is right on target to hit H1N1,” Mrs. Sebelius said. “We’ve got a great match. We also know that it’s very safe. Although the virus is new, the vaccine is not new. It’s made exactly the way seasonal flu has been made year in and year out.”

An Associated Press-GfK poll this week found that more than a third of parents don’t want their children vaccinated because of concerns about side effects from the new vaccine, although no serious side effects have been found yet in tests.

Ethel Benson, grandmother to 12-year-old D’Angelo Greene, said she was a little leery of the new vaccine but thought it was best for D’Angelo to be vaccinated based on what she had read.

“It’s better to take it,” Mrs. Benson said, shortly after D’Angelo received the vaccine at the school.

Noted D’Angelo: “It was a piece of cake.”

By late October, Mrs. Sebelius said, there will be about 40 million or more doses of vaccine available throughout the country, as health officials try to vaccinate priority groups, focusing on the young between six months to 24 years of age and pregnant women.

“Given the fact that this is a young person’s flu, given the fact that kids are enormously potent carriers of any germs, we needed to get to schools,” Mrs. Sebelius said. “So schools have been wonderful partners, and I think there will be vaccination clinics across this country in schools over the next couple of weeks.”

Mrs. Sebelius also emphasized that President Obama has ordered the health department to order enough vaccine for the nation’s entire population.

“It just won’t all be available at the same time, so as vaccine production ramps up we’re going to get it to the priority groups first and then have it widely available,” Mrs. Sebelius said.

The flu mist form of the vaccine isn’t supposed to be used by children under 2, people over 49 or by pregnant women.

Dr. Jay Butler, swine flu vaccine chief with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, underscored the dangers of the virus, particularly to children.

“It is a virus that kills people, so this vaccine is a very important way to prevent those hospitalizations and deaths,” Dr. Butler said.

Nine people have died in Maryland from swine flu, including two children.

Mr. O’Malley noted that Prince George’s County has received $2 million in federal money to help vaccinate residents.

“In Maryland, we have started to do seasonal vaccines in our schools, and we’ve been ramping that up for the last couple of years and, therefore, Dodge Park was ready to administer the swine flu vaccine - H1N1 vaccine - and that’s what we’re going to do today,” Mr. O’Malley said.

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