Leader Blues

Saturday, October 24, 2009

TOP STORY >> Lonoke hosts flu clinic

Rhelinda McFadden (left), a registered nurse, gives Lonoke High School junior Briana Tate a flu vaccine Wednesday at Lonoke Primary School, while her grandmother, Judith Tate, helps her brave the pain from the shot.

Leader staff writer

The line began to form at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Lonoke Primary School, an hour before the school flu clinic opened its doors.

Students from all Lonoke schools, as well as parents and other family members, were there to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu and the new swine strain that emerged last spring.

After the doors opened, tables in the cafeteria quickly filled. There was paperwork to complete. Then you waited for your group – table by table – to be called into the library for vaccinations. By 5:15 p.m., the line had filled a long hallway and extended outside the school’s front door. About that time, Jeribeth Edwards arrived with her son, Chandler, a pre-kindergarten student. She was unperturbed by the prospect of a long wait.

“Why not?” she said. “It’s free.”

In the cafeteria, the atmosphere was relaxed, though volunteer Emma McClary, whose job was to call groups to go into the library, said she’d nabbed a few folks trying to sneak in out of turn.

A small group of teachers from the middle school sat together, chatting to pass the time. What seemed like a flu bug along with a nasty intestinal virus had already made the rounds this fall, but “it seems to be calming down now. I think we are through the worst of it.”

At another table, Daisy Fowler was filling out the several pages of paperwork required to get the vaccine. The young mother wanted vaccinations for herself and her three children – ages 8, 5, and 2 – because “they are really easy to get sick.”

The clinic was to close at 7 p.m., but it took 40 minutes more to give vaccines to everyone; no one was turned away. In all, 804 people were vaccinated and 1,062 vaccinations given – either the nasal mist or shot for swine flu or seasonal flu shot.

It was a long day, but a good one, said Betty Fletcher, who headed up the collaboration between the school district and the local health unit, along with a cadre of volunteers.

“We felt really good and felt that the community really appreciated what we were doing,” Fletcher said. “We have not had any complaints. We hope what we did will help keep people healthy this winter.”

The Lonoke school clinic was one of several hundred scheduled for this fall in Arkansas’ 243 school districts. The clinics will recur each year, the costs covered by tobacco tax revenues, thanks to a bill passed in the last General Assembly.

“Arkansas is the only state that I am aware of that is doing flu clinics for the general public and the school districts,” said Paula Smith, school nurse consultant for the Arkansas Department of Education. “It has been a very collaborative effort between the health and education departments.”

The planning process began in early spring, before the H1N1 strain came on the scene. That became another layer on a massive logistical effort. It included required innumerable meetings as well as the purchase of 95 more refrigerators for vaccine storage and printing 2 million copies of forms distributed to schools and health units.

It won’t be known until the clinics are finished and data is compiled about how many people are taking advantage of the school clinics, but Smith estimates that at least 50 percent – and in some locations as high as 80 percent – of Arkansas students are being vaccinated.

On the state level, health officials are setting restrictions on who gets the H1N1 vaccine first, because shipments of the vaccine ave not been as plentiful as they had hoped, said Ed Barham, spokesperson for the Arkansas Health Department.

“Our strategy has been to vaccinate children first, and so far there has been just enough for the school clinics,” with shortages reported at only a few locations, Barham said. “But we may not have enough H1N1 vaccine at the mass community flu clinics for everyone.”

The first round of community clinics are slated for Thursday through Saturday and then again in December. Children ages 9 and under are advised to get two doses of H1N1 vaccine a month apart.

Very young children, as well as pregnant women, get top priority because these two groups are at greatest risk for flu-related complications, hospitalization or death.

So far, 87 children across the country have already died from the virus – just one shy of the highest number of pediatric flu-related deaths on record for any year. And, although pregnant women comprise only 1 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 6 percent of swine flu-related deaths.

Pregnant women should call their local health unit or doctor to see if they have the injectable form of the H1N1 vaccine, which is in short supply, Barham advised. Most of the 61,100 doses sent to Arkansas have been the nasal mist, which has not been approved for pregnant women.

Even if community clinics are short on the H1N1 vaccine, they will still be dispensing vaccine for seasonal flu. To be protected against both strains of the flu, both vaccines are needed.

The seasonal flu results in 36,000 deaths annually in the U.S. The swine flu strain is proving to be highly contagious and is spreading rapidly across the country.

If H1N1 vaccine shortages do occur, community mass flu clinics will be re-scheduled, Barham said.

The five companies that each year manufacture the seasonal flu vaccine are also making the one for swine flu, Barham explained.

“It usually takes all summer to make the one for seasonal vaccine, and the one for H1N1 takes longer to make. Right now, we are kind of at the mercy of the process. There is more expected this week, but the numbers change every day,” Barham said.

More shots are scheduled for area

Tuesday: Beebe Elementary School, 8 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.; from 2-6 p.m. at all Pulaski County Special School District schools.

Wednesday: Beebe junior and senior high schools, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Thursday: Jacksonville Community Center, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Friday: Beebe Health Unit, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Cabot Community Center, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Dec. 4.