Successful local school FluMist program a model for other areas


Child health advocate Jim Stringfellow surprises Cynthia Chestnut with a gift for her help with funding when she was chairwoman on the County Commission during the Alachua County FluMist Program's announcement on the success of its vaccination efforts, Tuesday at Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 5:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 5:31 p.m.

It takes a village to vaccinate every elementary and middle school child in Alachua County against influenza.

But experts say the results are worth it. If 70 percent of all school kids are immunized against the flu, studies from Japan show, an entire community can be protected.

The Alachua County FluMist Program, now in its second year, reached an additional 13,000 school children in last fall’s campaign.

The FluMist program began in 2009, when some 65 percent of the county’s school children were vaccinated against the flu.

“It was the highest immunization rate in the state and possibly the nation,” said Cuc Tran, the program coordinator.

Nationally, school immunization programs have seen a decrease of 5 to 10 percent in participation, according to Tran.

Representatives of the coalition of 25 organizations came together Tuesday to celebrate the success of the three-year, volunteer-driven program to bring free FluMist to the county’s public and private schools.

Among them were school nurses, pediatricians, volunteers and University of Florida students and faculty in the health professions.

“This diverse group came together in what was almost a wartime campaign,” said child health advocate Jim Stringfellow.

Public health experts such as Dr. Parker Small of the UF College of Medicine consider the schools “virus exchange systems” and the children in them “super spreaders” because children at school spread more of the virus and do so for a longer period of time than adults.

Nichole Bobo, education director with the National Association of School Nurses, said Alachua County’s effort has definitely made its mark. The organization will report on the county’s results at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta later this month. It also plans to prepare an online “tool kit” for school nurses who wish to duplicate the effort.

Dr. Kathleen Ryan is one of 27 community pediatricians who has supported the immunization program. She and other area doctors encouraged parents to sign their healthy children up to receive the FluMist vaccine free in the schools. Also getting vaccinated were youngsters with chronic health conditions.

“We are definitely seeing less flu in our offices this season,” Ryan reported.

The program has received monetary support from CHOICES, AvMed Healthcare and Wal-Mart to help meet costs. The state Department of Health donated vaccines.

Stringfellow noted that with the county’s CHOICES program coming to an end, organizers of the flu vaccine campaign hope county commissioners “will treat the remaining money as a ‘trust fund’ to be used for community health projects.”

“We will need that money badly,” he said, as the campaign continues its third year.

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