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North Central Finds Success in School-Based Flu Clinics

December 13, 2013

Orginally published Jan. 01, 2012

Last week, 58 percent of PHPOLL respondents indicated they will set a New Year’s resolution. One Georgia Public Health District has set their own kind of resolution—to ensure school children and their families are healthy and flu-free in the New Year.

This was the challenge presented to the North Central Health District’s (NCHD) Immunization Program this fall: One health district.  13 county health departments.  Over 150 schools.  And one goal:  To offer a flu vaccine to every school-aged child with no out of pocket expense to parents. 

”Of the many services that public health provides, protecting those most vulnerable from preventable diseases is one of the most important,” David N. Harvey, M.D., District Health Director, said.  “Children, most of all, deserve and merit the very best that we can do in this regard. We are pleased and excited to be involved in the successes of the school-based flu immunization campaign. The cooperation with our school system leadership has been crucial and amazing.”

The school-based clinics kicked off in mid-November and will continue until every school has been visited, which may take until late January. 

Planning a school-based flu vaccine clinic requires close coordination between Public Health and the school system.  This year, the North Central Health District (NCHD) provided the permission slips and vaccine information statements while the schools provided a cover letter to the parents.  School nurses verified information on the permission slips prior to the date of the clinic.  Public Health nurses administered the vaccine and entered the information into GRITS, Georgia’s electronic database for vaccine records.

School nurse Kathy Shiplett from the Houston County Board of Education says her county is fortunate to have overwhelming support from the teachers, staff and school administrators.  Much of that support comes because of proven results.

“Over the last four years we have been involved in this project, we’ve seen a decrease in children’s illness, we’ve seen an increase in our attendance during flu season, and our emergency rooms have seen a decrease in pediatric patients coming through with flu-like symptoms,” Shiplett said.

Last year, the district administered over 16,000 vaccines to schools in a 13-county service area and statistics point to some of the lowest in flu cases reported in the state last year.

“While we cannot definitively prove that the school-based clinics were the sole cause of fewer flu cases, it seems highly likely that the two are related. Additionally, the State Department of Education has shown that graduation rates are directly related to days of attendance.  The fewer days missed leads to higher graduation rates and higher CRCT scores.  We see this as a mutually beneficial project,” said Harvey.

The NCHD has had at least one county participating in flu-based clinics for the last four years.  All NCHD counties have been involved in school-based clinics for the last two flu seasons. NCHD has been so successful, in fact, that it caught the eye of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).  The CDC has commissioned a study to research the feasibility of school-based clinics.  This year, two counties in the NCHD were selected to participate in this study, along with only six other locations in the nation.

Jordan Theaker with RTI International, the research firm conducting the feasibility study, visited a school-based clinic in Houston County. 

He said, “What we’re trying to get is an estimate of both the actual costs and labor time involved with school-located vaccination clinics.  We’ve been asking sites to track time leading up to the clinic, the day of the clinic and any activities afterwards.”

While the results of the CDC study are not available yet, the NCHD did research of their own.  A recent self-evaluation of a school-based clinic found that on average, a nurse could vaccinate 2.3 students per minute.  Of the groups of students observed, no group was out of their classroom longer than 10-15 minutes.

Harvey said, “Our nurses have done a phenomenal job implementing school-based clinics in our district.  We are grateful to our employees and the public and private schools throughout our district.”