Pupils to get free FluMist

The Baltimore Sun


The free FluMist vaccinations for Maryland children ages 5 to 11, outlined in an article in yesterday's business section, are available to all Maryland districts that choose to participate, including Baltimore.

Maryland will offer 250,000 free doses of FluMist to elementary school kids ages 5 through 11 this year, giving a public relations boost to MedImmune Inc., which makes the needle-free vaccine, as well as helping parents of shot-wary children.

"This is a big deal. It's an expensive proposition," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday during a groundbreaking ceremony for MedImmune's new manufacturing plant in Frederick.

The governor has pledged $1.3 million to pay for 77,000 doses of the nasally inhaled flu vaccine, while MedImmune is donating another 90,000 doses, and the Centers for Disease Control has committed 83,000 doses. The costs to MedImmune and the CDC were not available yester- day.

The program will be administered by county health departments through participating schools, both of which will donate staff time to deliver the vaccine.

It's an extension of pilot programs tested in Carroll and Calvert counties last year, in which about half of the eligible children participated.

Each county health department will set the rules for participation. Harford County, for example, plans to administer the shots at public schools and through clinics for private- and home-schoolers.

The county has sent home consent forms for parents to sign and prepared to begin administering doses next month.

The program is a one-time deal that could help improve adoption of MedImmune's flu vaccine, which has had poor sales compared to its injectable counterpart, and in turn reduce the number of sick days children take.

The parents of about a half-million children will receive information about FluMist, and half of them are expected to sign their kids up.

"If we can get parents to understand that there are other ways to vaccinate their children, we can get a higher take-up rate ... and slow the progress of disease," said S. Anthony McCann, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Most flu vaccinations take place in a doctor's office or clinic. The shots typically cost about $10, compared with FluMist's average $16 price tag, but they're also the stuff of nightmares for children who can't stand needles.

"From MedImmune's point of view, we're committed to pediatric health, and rising vaccination rates overall helps protect more kids," said MedImmune spokeswoman Jamie Lacey.

Ehrlich also announced plans to assemble a 23-member team made up of representatives from the public and private health sectors charged with developing a state strategy for dealing with pandemic flu, which will be paid for with a $1.8 million award from the Centers for Disease Control.

The Pandemic Influenza Coordinating Committee will report to the governor by the end of the year.


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