Berkeley Schools May Offer Clinics to Guard Against Swine Flu

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 21, 2009 - 01:43:00 PM

Even as Berkeley Unified School District officials meet with the city’s public health officials this week to plan for possible in-house immunization camps, Alameda County said Monday that it could be days, even months before the H1N1 vaccine becomes available. 

Alameda County Public Health Department spokesperson Sherri Willis said that “almost everything related to swine flu vaccinations is in flux” right now. 

Willis said that clinical trials for the H1N1 vaccine—which started about two weeks ago—are still ongoing. Once complete, the Centers for Disease Control will analyze the results and make a recommendation about its safety and dosage. 

“You have to remember, it’s a very new vaccine,” Willis said. “Vaccines are usually a year old. This one is only five months old.” 

Willis said between 85 million and 120 million doses of the vaccine could become available anytime between October and January. 

“The state Department of Public Health has been told that large flu vaccine manufacturers will distribute the vaccine to private doctors, in addition to public health departments, hospitals, and other entities that get the seasonal flu vaccine,” Willis said. "That too is subject to change.” 

Willis said all that had been confirmed so far were the target groups for the H1N1 vaccinations: children aged six monhs and older and young adults up to the age of 24; staff in K-12 schools and child care centers; pregnant women, and anyone taking care of babies at home. 

Adults under the age of 65 with chronic conditions that increase the risk of complications of influenza will also be immunized against H1N1, as will health care workers and emergency sector personnel. 

“The target population could be half of the population of the United States,” Willis said.  

Willis said Alameda County has decided that every public health office will hold mass vaccinations for the target populations and for various other vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, the uninsured and the underinsured. 

“This plan should work if insured persons are able to get the vaccination from their private doctors,” Willis said. “Again, everything at this point is tentative.” 

Willis said if the CDC recommends two H1N1 flu shots instead of one, people will have to wait three to four weeks between shots. 

Willis said that although the county’s H1N1 vaccination camps will not be carried out in schools, the City of Berkeley could decide to hold them in its schools because the city has its own health department. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said parents had already been mailed a flyer to help prepare them for the start of the school year Sept. 2. 

The message from the Berkeley Public Health Division says the city anticipates an “increased number of hospitalizations and flu-related deaths in the coming weeks.” City health officials also recommends testing and treatment for hospitalized and high-risk individuals, adding that the new virus could “change to cause more severe illness or more widespread disease in the fall or winter.” 

Coplan said the school district is considering establishing flu shot clinics at every school. 

“We have to make sure how parents are feeling about it because not everyone might want their child to get a flu shot,” he said. “We also want to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks.” 

Coplan said the district is also considering using alcohol-based sanitizers in the schools and will be engaging in talks with the city’s health office to examine funding options. 

“The initial recommendation is to have alcohol-based sanitizers in classrooms. That could cost up to $80,000,” Coplan said. “It’s fairly expensive. We might also ask PTAs and community members to donate them. We literally don’t have any money to spend right now.” 

Willis said that the California Department of Public Health recommends alcohol-based sanitizers as long as they are used with the proper precautions. 

State public health department guidelines for using alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be found at www.cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/discond/Documents/CDPHHealthAlert8-13-09.pdf.