Arkansas: Vaccinating Children Grades K-12 For Seasonal Flu

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As part of Governor Mike Beebe’s health initiative and with funding provided by the tobacco tax passed during the recent legislative session and federal monies, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) and local school districts statewide are offering the seasonal flu shot to all school children in grades K-12 beginning in mid-October.

Dr. Paul Halverson, ADH director and state health officer, said, “It has been shown that vaccinating our children is the best way to protect other age groups from the flu as well, especially the elderly population, which is more vulnerable to the most severe effects of the flu. However, until now it has not been possible to offer flu vaccine to all children in their schools, K-12. This is the beginning of a very significant effort in public health protection.”

Seasonal flu shots are not required for children to attend school, but they are highly recommended. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommend that all children aged 6 months and older receive a seasonal flu shot every year. Seasonal flu causes children to miss school and their parents to miss work. The seasonal flu shot will not protect against the novel H1N1 influenza A (Swine Flu) virus. There is a separate vaccination that is currently being produced to combat H1N1 influenza A.

Governor Mike Beebe said, “Protecting Arkansas children from the flu is an important part of our continuing success in improving economic conditions in our state, both short-term and long-term,” Governor Mike Beebe said. “The more people we can vaccinate in Arkansas, the harder it will be for the virus to spread through our state.”

After school begins, children will be bringing home a consent form with the date that the shots will be given and a fact sheet about the seasonal flu shot. If parents want their children to receive the free shot, they must sign and return the form. Children will not be able to receive the shot without signed parental permission.

ADE Interim Commissioner Dr. Diana Julian said, ”The Arkansas Department of Education is appreciative of this effort. Each year, scores of students lose instructional days due to the seasonal flu. This effort will no doubt have a positive effect on students’ learning experiences as it will lead to fewer missed days and less energy spent by teachers helping students make up for lost learning time.”

Seasonal flu is a sickness that infects the nose, throat and lungs and is caused by the influenza virus. Shots are effective protection and people cannot get the flu from the vaccine. “The flu shot contains a small amount of dead or killed viruses and is enough to get your body’s immune system ready to fight off the real flu when it comes around this winter. If you’re young and healthy, the flu vaccine may be 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing illness,” said James Phillips, M.D., director of the Infectious Disease Branch at ADH.

The best time to be immunized is between mid-October and mid-November. This allows the body’s immunity to peak during the height of the influenza season, which is generally December through March. Children nine years and younger who have never received a seasonal flu shot before will need a second seasonal flu shot for full protection. Parents will need to contact a local ADH health unit or health care provider, to arrange for a second shot 4 weeks after the first shot.

Though all persons older than 6 months of age should get a seasonal flu shot each year, those most at risk for influenza disease complications are:

* people 50 years of age and older;

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* children ages 6 months to 19 years;

* adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic lung or heart disorders;

* pregnant women;

* adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes), kidney diseases, blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia), or weakened immune systems, including persons with HIV/AIDS;

* residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;

* children and teenagers, 6 months to 18 years of age who take aspirin daily;

* health-care workers involved in direct, hands-on care to patients and household members and out-of home caregivers of infants under the age of 6 months;

* caregivers and household contacts of persons in high-risk groups;

* children and adolescents aged six months through 18 years who are household contacts or out-of-home caregivers of persons in high-risk groups.

Persons who should not receive influenza vaccine for health reasons are: persons with a severe allergy (i.e. anaphylactic allergic reaction) to hens’ eggs and persons who previously had onset of Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Influenza symptoms include fever of 101 degrees F or higher, headache, extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, and occasionally stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

The influenza virus is spread through coughing or sneezing and by touching a hard surface with the virus on it and then touching the nose or mouth. The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year.

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