Students high priority for H1N1 vaccine

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
An estimated 75,000 children and adults in Rowan County are in the high priority groups established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CD) to be the first offered an H1N1 flu vaccine.
That number includes all students in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Health Department Director Leonard Wood told the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education Monday night. Children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years are a high priority group along with pregnant women, health care and emergency care workers and adults with underlying health conditions such as diabetes.
With the seasonal flu, which is reported in all ages, complications are more frequent in younger children and older adults.
Wood said the high priority groups for the H1N1 flu account for 40 to 50 percent of the county’s population. An H1N1 flu vaccine, which he said will likely require one initial shot and a second shot 14-to-28 days later, is currently being developed and should be available to county health departments by the first of November.
“That’s all real speculative at this point in time,” he said.
There are not enough health department staff to give 150,000 vaccinations in a one-month period of time, Wood said, so they’re working on a plan incorporating the assistance of school nurses and staff at Rowan Regional Medical Center, the Hefner VA Medical Center and other medical providers and health agencies in administering the vaccine.
Wood said the health department is asking the state for enough vaccine for 140,000 vaccinations for 70,000 people. “We know we’re not going to get that much,” he said, “because there’s not that much available nationally.”
Dr. James Emerson, chairman of the school board, asked if the H1N1 flu poses a greater threat than the regular seasonal flu.
Not necessarily, Wood said. “The problem is it’s not been vaccinated against like the seasonal flu has.” The H1N1 flu is totally new, he said.
Board member Kay Wright Norman expressed concern that the school staff working with students are not considered part of the high priority groups.
“I don’t disagree with you,” Wood said, “but that’s not what the CDC recommends.” The health department is following and will follow the CDC and N.C. Department of Public Health and Human Services guidelines on administering the H1N1 vaccines available to the county, he said.
Board member Karen South Carpenter asked how information about the possible effect of the H1N1 flu on the schools will be communicated to staff.
Dr. Walter Hart, assistant superintendent for administration, said school nurses will be discussing the matter with staff, and Tim Smith, director of student services, will be distributing information on the flu for students to take to their parents. Hart said a critical factor in controlling the spread of any H1N1 cases is for sick students and staff to stay at home until they’re no longer contagious.
Wood said more information on the H1N1 flu is available on the CDC Website.
With the number of H1N1 flu cases continuing to rise across North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Web site reports 156 total hospitalizations and nine deaths.
Flu deaths are not unusual. Every year, between 1,000 and 2,000 people across the state die of seasonal flu and pneumonia.
On June 11, the World Health Organization raised the pandemic alert level from Phase 5 to Phase 6 indicating that an influenza pandemic is under way. The decision to raise the pandemic alert level is a reflection of the spread of the disease, not the severity of the illness caused by the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.