Howard schools gearing up for flu season, offering free vaccines

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

The Howard County school system is preparing for flu season with its annual free vaccination clinics at all 77 schools.

The flu season begins in October and can last until May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the flu season happens each year, it is not possible to determine what the new season will be like, according to the CDC. The length, timing and severity varies from season to season.

The flu shots will be offered by the nonprofit Maryland Partnership for Prevention and the school system between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15.

“If they don’t have insurance, no student is turned away,” said Brian Bassett, a county schools spokesman. “Any student who has permission of their parent or guardian can get a flu shot.”

Parents and guardians are asked to include insurance information if available. There is no co-pay or deductible and parents will not be charged by their insurance company or school system.

Last season, 12,220 flu shots were administered, according to Bassett.There are nearly 58,000 students enrolled in the school system for the current academic year.

Vaccinations take about two weeks to protect against the flu, according the Maryland Department of Health.

Even with a flu shot, it’s possible to still be diagnosed with the flu, according to the CDC. Exposure to a flu virus can happen before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after receiving a flu shot.

The school system began offering flu shots after the H1N1 pandemic, also known as the swine flu, broke out in 2009.

The flu shots are funded by the Vaccine For Children, a federally funded program that provides free vaccinations for children, and by health insurance companies contributions, Bassett said.

Flu symptoms in children include either bluish or gray skin, faster or troubled breathing, irritability , a fever and a rash, not drinking enough fluids or not waking up or interaction, according to the state’s health department.

Consent forms are due at each student’s school by Sept. 21. The forms can be printed out from the school system’s website.

While flu vaccinations are not mandatory for students, certain vaccinations are in order for student to be allowed into a school building.

In order to attend a county school, all students must have the required State of Maryland immunizations that are needed for their age group. The various vaccines include measles, mumps, chickenpox, polio, meningitis, hepatitis b, human papillomavirus, known as and tdap, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Parents must provide proof of a student’s immunization prior to the student attending the school or documentation of an appointment scheduled for within 20 days calendar days of the first day of school. All county schools opened Sept. 4.

“If they [students] don’t have the proper vaccines by that date they can’t be allowed into the building,” Bassett said. “It’s a legal obligation.”

When asked of past instances where a student was not properly vaccinated, none came to mind for Bassett. However, schools do follow up with families until the deadline, Bassett said.

The school system helps families receive vaccinations, including connecting residents with the Howard County Health Department that offers two back to school free vaccination clinics each September.

For at least 20 years, the health department has provided vaccinations for children entering kindergarten and the seventh grade, according to Matt Wilson, a health department spokesman.

Earlier this month, 111 children attended one of two vaccination clinics , Wilson said in an email. An additional 123 students received the needed vaccinations in May, when the health department got a head start on the 2018-2019 vaccinations, according to Wilson.

If students are not entering kindergarten or the seventh grade but still need the required vaccinations, they are also seen at the clinics, Wilson said.

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