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The Howard County school system is continuing to provide swine flu vaccines for its students amid a noticeable drop in absences in recent weeks.

"It's been very mild," said Patti Caplan, the school system's spokeswoman. "It's much different than what we expected."

The school system will offer vaccines at Veterans Elementary School in Ellicott City on Dec. 1, according to Caplan.

The school system and the county Health Department have been distributing vaccines to schools with the largest populations in an attempt to thwart large numbers of school absences, according to school and health officials.

More than 3,000 Howard County students have received the swine flu vaccine this academic year 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.

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

A little more than 5,400 doses have been distributed in Howard County, according to Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Howard County's health officer, who no longer has an exact timetable for the distribution because of the supply uncertainty.

Since the school system started distributing the vaccines, officials have noticed a marked decrease in the amount of absences.

The past two weeks, no school has reported absences greater than 10 percent, which is the level where schools are required to report data to the Health Department. That is in stark contrast to the beginning of the academic year, when schools reported 87 instances of absenteeism that exceeded 10 percent.

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