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More than 3,000 Howard County students have received the swine flu vaccine during the past three weeks in one of the largest school-based efforts in the Baltimore area.

Seven schools have received the vaccines: Elkridge, Rockburn, Waterloo and Bellow Spring elementaries, Cedar Lane School, and Reservoir and Howard highs.

"Everything went really well," said school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "The schools did a great job of getting the paperwork prepared. It went very smoothly."

Health Department and school system officials are not certain when the next batch of students will receive the vaccine as they await more doses from manufacturers. Schools with the largest populations will receive the vaccines next, according to Caplan.

"We'll be ready to roll," Caplan said.

All Howard schools are expected to distribute vaccine as it becomes available.

The Health Department has attempted to target "priority populations," which include schoolchildren, toddlers, pregnant women, the elderly, people with special needs, first-responder emergency workers and college-age students, according to Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Howard County's health officer.

The Health Department will offer up to 4,000 vaccines on Monday and Tuesday at Howard Community College for the campus' students. The clinic opens at 10 a.m., according to Beilenson.

"Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are the last group in the high-priority age group," Beilenson said. "We are strategically going to all groups."

Beilenson had expected to have 50,000 vaccine doses by the end of October before a delay was announced.

As of Thursday, a little more than 5,400 doses had been distributed in Howard County, according to Beilenson, who no longer has an exact timetable for the distribution because of the supply uncertainty.

"It literally shows up in our loading dock out of the blue," Beilenson said about the vaccines. "There is no knowledge how much we will get."

Beilenson said he has been pleased with the distribution process.

"I think the process which we've taken has been extremely successful," he said. "I'm very comfortable with the way we are doing things. As we get vaccines in, we set that up and distribute them within three to four days. I think that has worked very well."

Beilenson said he has noticed an immediate effect at schools where the vaccines have been distributed.

"Almost without exception, the schools where we vaccinated are all stable or have gone down with absenteeism, which is good," he said.

Howard County school officials report to the Health Department absentee rates at individual schools that exceed 10 percent. This year, Howard County schools have reported 87 instances of absenteeism that exceeded 10 percent. But the school system is starting to see improvement.

"It's been very quiet," Caplan said. "The last few reports we've gotten, we didn't have any schools at 10 percent or above."

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