JACKSON, Miss. — Swine flu shots remain in demand across the state with some clinics temporarily running out of the vaccine. Some schools, however, are balking at giving swine flu shots altogether.
"We're willing to distribute information, but we're not going to offer schools as immunization sites," said Ellen Aregood, assistant to the superintendent at Madison County School District. "We felt very strongly that it's a parental decision," she said.
"As a district, we're not comfortable with a child bringing in a signature that we can't verify."
State Department of Health officials say more than 800 schools have moved to provide the vaccine — expected to be given over the next few weeks to about 500,000 Mississippi students.
Estelle Watts, state school nurse consultant for the state Department of Education, said it's a daunting task to vaccinate 500,000 students.
"It's been well documented that children are impacted by this flu," she said. "We just want to give the students the best opportunities for protection."
Clinton schools will begin giving shots Thursday for the novel H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu. About a sixth of the district's more than 4,600 students have received permission to get the vaccine. But some parents are hesitating — more worried about the vaccine's side effects than the swine flu's symptoms.
"I'm skeptical of safety and possible side effects in a vaccine so new," said Karen Bedells, a nurse for 20 years who has three girls attending Clinton schools. "I think even the kids are skeptical with it being so new. I'd rather wait."
She isn't going to have her children vaccinated, despite the fact she was sick for a week recently, possibly with the swine flu.
"If they get the swine flu, I know how to treat it," she said. "I'd rather work with the known than the unknown."
Melanie Harrell, nurse practitioner for Rankin County School District, said she, too, has heard concerns from people that the shots aren't safe, "but the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) made this vaccine just like the seasonal flu vaccine. It's as safe as the other vaccines." Those who fear the vaccine "are amiss about the safety," she said. "I understand parents' concern, but I would still encourage them to weigh the risks of their child not getting the vaccine."
The Rankin County School Board voted Wednesday to administer the shots. Earlier this year, the 18,600-student district administered the seasonal flu vaccine to 1,000. James Mason, a spokesman for the Hinds County School District, said vaccinations start next Friday in the Raymond area schools, followed by schools in Byram and Terry on Dec. 1-4. No dates have been set yet for Bolton and Utica schools.
Liz Sharlot, communications director for the state Health Department, said the demand has been steady for the vaccine at the department's clinics across the state.
"There have not been long waits," she said.
So far, 373,900 swine flu doses have been allocated to Mississippi. The vaccine is available free of charge at clinics for these groups: pregnant women; children 6 months through 4 years of age; and parents, siblings, caregivers and anyone else living in the house with an infant under 6 months of age. Health officials say these groups are at the highest risk for complications from the flu.
"We really appreciate the patience Mississippians have had in working with us to make sure those with the highest risk of complications receive their vaccinations first," said state epidemiologist Dr. Mary Currier. "We expect the vaccine to be available for everyone once the priority groups have been vaccinated."
Currier said those who aren't in the high priority groups should get their seasonal flu shot to protect against seasonal influenza. She said Mississippians also should continue practicing basic prevention methods, including washing their hands frequently or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into their sleeves or coughing into a tissue followed by hand washing, and avoiding close contact with those who are sick.
Department officials are now offering antiviral medication for uninsured and underinsured Mississippians who have a prescription from their physicians. Health Department officials say they're working with selected pharmacies throughout the state to help distribute Tamiflu and Relenza from state and federal stockpiles to patients who cannot otherwise afford them.
To receive these free medications, patients must bring a prescription for the medication and a signed document from their health care providers noting in which high-risk group the patient belongs, officials say.
On the Net: State Department of Health, http://www.HealthyMS.com