SEBRING — Highlands County public school students will be offered free flu vaccinations next school year in an effort to reduce the number off flu-related illnesses county wide.
Florida Department of Health Highlands Community Health Nursing Director Barbara Moore said Thursday the voluntary vaccine will be administered by nasal spray in each school probably in October.
Permission slips will go out to parents at the beginning of the school year, she said. Also, parents will be able to sign up their children online through a link on the school board website.
A federal program will fund the vaccines for uninsured children and those on Medicaid, Moore said. “We are working with a third-party payer to get vaccines for the privately insured students.”
Moore projects that 20 percent of the students will participate in the first year of the School Located Flu Clinic Project.
“I am preparing to have that much vaccine and if it is less then we will distribute the vaccines to other areas that need it,” she said.
At a recent school board meeting, Moore explained the benefits of a school vaccination program.
She noted the flu-related costs in Highlands County and its healthcare system and its residents - $940,000 in direct healthcare costs and $3,500 in indirect costs.
In an average year in the county, flu causes 10,000 illnesses, 40 hospitalizations and 4,000 medical visits.
Moore noted that children are “super spreaders” of influenza for two reasons - they shed the virus for a longer period than adults and they interact more physically and with more people than adults.
Vaccinating in schools will save lives, suffering and money, she said. Immunizing 20 percent of kids protects the elderly more than immunizing 90 percent of those over 65. Immunizing 80 percent of the kids can protect an entire community.
Moore noted a couple of school-related benefits - reduced student and staff absenteeism and increased head count during the student enrollment survey week, which affects state funding.
Moore said at this time private schools will not be part of the vaccination program.