At a number of Harford County Public Schools where the scarce H1N1 vaccine has been offered, a majority of students did not have parental consent and therefore were not immunized in school.
In six out of the 11 public schools where it has been administered, less than half of the student population got the H1N1 vaccine, based the latest available enrollment figures and vaccination data provided by HCPS. The vaccination rates ranged from a high of 57% at both Emmorton and Forest Lakes Elementary schools, to a low of 28% at Hall’s Crossroads Elementary and 31% at Aberdeen Middle School.
Why haven’t more parents given their consent? Feedback isn’t collected, so no one can say for sure.
Some parents may not be getting the message that timely consent is needed when the H1N1 vaccine becomes available at a particular school. But Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for HCPS said parents are alerted on line, through phone calls and in take-home materials when the Harford County Health Department announces plans to distribute the vaccine. She said the low participation rates could also reflect absences and underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, which would prevent students from receiving the H1N1 flu mist being distributed in the school program.
Questions about the safety of the relatively new H1N1 vaccine are also a likely factor. The school system and health officials are providing parents with safety information, including this link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, which includes the following statement:
We expect the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine to have a similar safety profile as seasonal flu vaccines, which have a very good safety track record.
The CDC encourages vaccination of school aged children and considers them a priority group, which is why the local health department is offering vaccinations in school.
Kranefeld from HCPS also cited a possible misconception that a child who has already recovered from influenza-like illness doesn’t need the H1N1 vaccine.
But Harford County Health Department spokesman Bill Wiseman said that even children who have had a confirmed case of H1N1 should get the vaccine. He said at worst, it would be a redundancy. But there is also the possibility that an earlier version of the H1N1 virus may have altered over time, so that all eligible students should be vaccinated.
Harford County Public School Updates:
Despite the limited reach of the school vaccination program, outbreaks of influenza-like illness, suspected to be H1N1, have peaked at most of the sixteen public schools affected since October 6, with eleven schools being taken off the flu watch list as of November 2, and only one school, North Harford Elementary being added. Emmorton, Fountain Green and Youth’s Benefit Elementary Schools are the other schools still on the watch list.
The outbreaks have affected schools in every major geographic region in the county, including Aberdeen, Bel Air, Fallston, Havre de Grace and North Harford, but coming only as close to Edgewood as William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School. William Paca is located in Abingdon, but feeds primarily into Edgewood secondary schools.
Four elementary schools, Emmorton, Forest Lakes, Fountain Green and Youth’s Benefit, received the H1N1 vaccine on November 4, bringing the number of schools receiving the vaccine to 12 out of 53 public schools in Harford County.