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Published: Monday, 9/14/2009

Swine flu shots land on agenda for Lucas County schools

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

School leaders in Lucas County could have another duty involving students this fall: They're being asked to help with logistics to administer swine flu shots on school grounds.

And while some Lucas County school districts are putting plans in place to hold vaccination clinics for the so-called swine flu, others are awaiting more directions - or have questions they want cleared up first.

At Toledo Public Schools, for example, Superintendent John Foley said the district is willing to cooperate with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department's plans to give H1N1 vaccination shots to students during clinics in schools.

But with more than 60 sites in the district, there are issues with staffing and setup, as well as how permission forms will be collected, Mr. Foley said. A major concern is whether the clinics can be held before or after the school day begins instead of during class time, he said.

"I think we have to look at that," Mr. Foley said.

He added: "We're willing, we want to cooperate, we want to help."

With 88,000 school-age children in Lucas County, the health department is working with schools to hold immunization clinics for the vaccine, which is expected to arrive in mid-October.

Pregnant women will be given the first H1N1 vaccine dosages, primarily through their doctors, and school-age children will be among the next priority group, said Dr. David Grossman, Lucas County health commissioner.

"The students are a high-risk group," Dr. Grossman said. "If we hold vaccine clinics and do it at the schools, it will be the most efficient."

Just as parents are not required to have their children immunized, schools do not have to hold the clinics, Dr. Grossman said. But most school administrators in the county understand the need, he said.

The health department will send informational packets to parents about H1N1, as well as a form to either accept or refuse the vaccine. The forms must be signed.

Various details must be worked out with each system in upcoming weeks, including when and where shots will be given, Dr. Grossman said. But the hope is to give H1N1 vaccinations during the school day to get as many willing students as possible, he said.

"The disruption to school days is going to be minimal," said Dr. Grossman, who noted that Lucas County has seen no confirmed cases of H1N1 this school year.

Closing a school because of an H1N1 virus outbreak would be more disruptive than taking time during home room, study hall, or other times in the school day for clinics, Dr. Grossman said. It will be especially helpful if it is decided that only one dose is needed instead of two as previously thought, he said.

At Sylvania Schools, officials in the next couple of weeks will work through the logistics of conducting vaccine clinics in each of the district's 12 schools, Superintendent Brad Rieger said.

Holding vaccine clinics for first graders will be different from high school juniors, which is one issue officials will be dealing with, Mr. Rieger said. The district wants to be ready once the health department has vaccines for Sylvania students, he said.

"Obviously, our priority first is academics," Mr. Rieger said. "But given the unique nature of this, we want to partner with the health department and put the health of students first."

Sylvania and many other Lucas County school districts are sending letters to parents, giving them information about H1N1 and what they should do to help prevent the virus' spread. Frequently washing hands and other proper hygiene techniques are among the advice school and health officials give.

Some schools, including Maumee City Schools and Kateri Catholic School System in Oregon, are awaiting more information about immunization clinics from the health department before making specific plans, officials said.

Oregon City Schools, meanwhile, already has been tested on its response to H1N1, although it turned out to be a drill.

The husband of an employee thought he had the virus but did not, said Hal Gregory, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The employee stayed home as asked until testing showed her husband was not infected with H1N1, Mr. Gregory said. Employees have been asked to stay home if they could be infected, one of many measures the district is taking to prevent the potential spread of the virus, he said.

"It's a balancing act," Mr. Gregory said. "We're trying to be as proactive as we can be but not incite panic."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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