Harford County children will be able to receive free FluMist vaccine at selected schools on Dec. 11 and 12, Harford County Public Schools officials informed parents Monday evening.

Clinics will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 Friday, Dec. 11, at Church Creek Elementary School in Belcamp and from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at Deerfield Elementary School in Edgewood and Red Pump Elementary School near Bel Air. Elementary schools are scheduled to dismiss students three hours early that day.

Another clinic will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at Patterson Mill Middle and High School south of Bel Air.

The clinics are being administered by the Harford County Health Department and are open to children between the ages of 2 and 18, according to an email sent to parents.

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Parents must fill out and sign the Health Department's FluMist vaccine consent form. The children must have the form "in hand" when they come to the clinic, according to HCPS.

The consent form, along with additional information about vaccines for influenza and other diseases, is available online at www.hcps.org/departments/publicinformation/vaccineinfocenter.aspx.

County health and school officials postponed October and November clinics because of unavailability of the vaccine.

"Without having the vaccine in hand, it didn't make sense to schedule the clinics," Health Department spokesperson William Wiseman said Tuesday.

Wiseman said health officials recommend parents get children vaccinated "sooner rather than later," as "empirical evidence" shows children can spread viral infections such as the flu faster than adults.

"Vaccination remains the best method for preventing influenza as well as the potentially severe complications that can result from being ill with the flu," he said. On average, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and about 36,000 people die from flu every year in the United States.

As flu season begins, health officials wary of another vaccine mismatch

Flu season is under way in Maryland after the state's first confirmed diagnosis was reported last week, but it's too early to say if it will pack the same severity as last year's, the state's top epidemiologist said.

FluMist, which is manufactured by MedImmune LLC, of Gaithersburg, is a nasal spray commonly given to children. Flu vaccines can be administered to children and adults via the nasal spray or an injection.

"The benefit of using the FluMist in schools is that you don't concern [children] with getting a shot," Wiseman said.

A MedImmune spokesperson told The Baltimore Sun in mid-October that the company "encountered some unforeseen challenges" in its manufacturing process, leading to postponements of fall vaccine clinics in Harford, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties and Baltimore City.

The vaccine is designed to protect against four strains of influenza, which are expected to be the most common among patients during the current flu season according to the report in The Sun.

The company replaced three of the four strains in the FluMist, a spokesperson for London-based AstraZeneca, the MedImmune parent company, told The Sun, explaining a significant portion of FluMist doses would be available "later in the influenza season relative to prior seasons."

The typical influenza season lasts from October to May, and the number of cases peaks between December and February, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on flu season, http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2015-2016.htm.

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