Parents concerned about H1N1 spreading in their children's classrooms can breath a slight sigh of relief in knowing that Metro Schools are taking proactive steps to prevent a widespread outbreak.
As soon as vaccine is available, Metro Health Department will begin dispensing free H1N1 vaccinations to all public school students.
The health department has been working with Metro Schools since April to develop the voluntary vaccination program, said Brian Todd, spokesperson for the Metro Health Department.
"We recognized that at some point we'd have another outbreak, and children are one of the highest risk groups," he said. "We also recognized that the federal government would be providing, at no charge, large doses of vaccine."
Public school parents should expect to receive a four-page packet sent home with their children either late this week or early next week.
The packet includes a letter from Bill Paul, Metro's Director of Health, explaining the program and two pages providing information on the actual H1N1 vaccines — one for the FluMist and another on the shot. Both vaccine pages are provided in English and Spanish.
The fourth page, which will be inserted by the school system, includes a consent form for parents or guardians to sign and return.
"This is purely an opportunity to protect their children," Todd said. "We want to them to have the information whether they're getting the shots from us, their pediatrician or they're not getting it at all."
H1N1 virus, also known as "swine flu" and "Pandemic H1N1 2009” is a virus that can spread from people who are infected to others through coughs and sneezes.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children and young adults between the ages of 6 months and 24 years be vaccinated against the 2009 H1N1. Children under 10 will need two doses four weeks apart. The health department will also provide the second dose.
Metro Schools spokesperson Noelle Mashburn said the plan is to begin with elementary grades, move to middle schools and then high school students.
"We're all working really, really hard to help slow spread and keep our kids healthy and well," Mashburn said.
Despite all the preparation, there are two variables officials cannot predict — when and how much vaccine will be available and how many people are going to want to be vaccinated.
Consent forms should be returned to schools by Oct. 9 so the health department can get an estimated head count on the number of doses needed before the vaccine arrives.
The health department will likely hire a team of contract nurses for an 8-week period to travel to schools and administer H1N1 vaccines, Todd said.
The federal government allows health departments to charge up to $19.50 per dose in administrative costs, but Metro has made the decision to offer the shots free of charge.
Metro is receiving $2 million in federal funds to promote an overall plan to provide H1N1 vaccinations. Todd said those funds will cover any administrative costs.