Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett said Wednesday that the district will not be holding in-house H1N1 immunization camps at schools, contrary to reports that have been circulating in the press in the last few weeks.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Huyett said. “The school district is not a provider of vaccinations. The students will get them from their healthcare provider or the city’s Public Health Division.”
Huyett met with the city’s acting health officer, Dr. Janet Berreman, Tuesday to make a plan for tackling the fall flu season when Berkeley schools open on Sept. 2.
Alameda County health officials said 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 started more than two weeks ago and are expected to continue for another two to four weeks. Once they are complete, the Centers for Disease Control will analyze the results and make recommendations about 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 any time 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 months to 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 healthcare 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.
Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said parents had already been mailed a flyer with general information about the flu 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 recommend 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.”
Willis said that, although the county’s H1N1 vaccination clinics will not be located in schools, the city of Berkeley could decide to hold them in its schools because the city has its own health department.
But Huyett said there were no plans to have immunization at school.
“All the advice we have given on the flu last spring is still in effect,” he said. “There is nothing new or different.”
Huyett said the district would continue to carry out the “WHACK the flu” campaign with WHACK being the abbreviated version for washing, staying at home when sick, and some of the other precautions health officials were asking everyone to take to protect themselves from the flu.
He said that schools would not be closed unless a large number of students remained absent and it was absolutely necessary to close them.
“We will be doing ample handwashing, especially with kids,” Huyett said, adding that, although the district was considering alcohol-based hand sanitizers, the schools will stick to soap and water for the time being.
Coplan said the district will be engaging in talks with the city’s health office to examine funding options for alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
“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..