Elementary Students Get H1N1 Vaccine, Other Schools Must Wait

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday November 19, 2009 - 09:36:00 AM

More than 2,000 Berkeley public elementary school students received H1N1 vaccinations from the city’s Public Health Division this week. However, middle and high schoolers will have to wait for new shipments to arrive before they can get their shots. 

The city’s Public Health spokesperson Zandra Lee said Tuesday that just as in the rest of the country, swine flu shipments to Berkeley have been inconsistent. 

Although the Public Health Division had planned to vaccinate students of all the Berkeley public schools this week, the staff postponed the dates for 6th to 12th graders to the week of Dec. 7. 

“We are apprehensive that we may not have adequate vaccine to hold clinics in all schools the week of Nov. 16,” the city’s Public Health Officer, Janet Berreman, told Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett in an e-mail Oct. 28. “Vaccine delivery throughout California has been uneven to date, with some health jurisdictions receiving substantial supplies, and others receiving little or none—without any apparent reason or explanation. Berkeley has still received only one very small shipment.” 

Berreman said in her e-mail that “fortunately,” both Kaiser Permanante and Alameda County had received vaccines, opening up options for students and staff in the high priority vaccine groups. 

“The situation is fluid, and this is an unprecedented undertaking made more difficult by state budget constraints and furloughs.” Berreman said. “So we are all grappling with the need to remain flexible and adapt to changing conditions.” 

On Tuesday, students at Malcolm X Elementary School, which was closed for a couple of days earlier this year after reporting the first swine flu case in a parent, lined up at 10 a.m. to get H1N1 shots. 

Some cried, some closed their eyes tight, and some smiled through the procedure, which was carried out by nurses from Flu Busters, consultants hired by the city. 

“We did not have the capacity,” spokesperson Lee said, when asked why nurses from Public Health were not administering the shots. “It’s logistically very challenging. Plus we need to free up our nurses to oversee the vaccinations.” 

Most children were given the nasal spray mist. Students with respiratory problems were given an injection instead. Parents were not present at the clinics unless there was some kind of discrepancy in their consent forms. 

Berkeley Unified spokesperson Mark Coplan said that a couple of private schools had called the district inquiring whether their children could get H1N1 shots from the city. Lee said that, although the city was only prioritizing public school students, public health care workers, and first- response personnel for the time being, the plan was to extend the H1N1 vaccinations to the community as more shipments begin to arrive. 

“We completely understand their frustration,” she said. “They should continue to check for H1N1 clinics in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.” 

Jennifer Monahan, a spokesperson for Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, which has 526 students, said the school was asking parents to get their children vaccinated at their private health care providers. 

“But my impression is that even organizations like Kaiser can’t keep it in stock,” she said. “It’s a long waitlist. The only thing we can do is stress hygiene and prevention.” 

The California Department of Public Health reports that as of Nov. 7 there have been 5,830 hospitalizations from the H1N1 virus statewide, of which 297 patients have died. 

Berkeley has had four serious cases and one death as of Oct. 24, according to the CDPH website. 

Coplan said that just over half of all elementary school students were getting the H1N1 vaccinations at the school flu clinics. 

“We had originally estimated that only 30 percent of the students would get the vaccination, based on national trends and parent surveys,” said Lee. “Things have gone well so far.” 

Coplan said that none of the Berkeley public schools had reported a higher than usual absence for this time of the year. 

Lee said the city’s Public Health Division had run out of seasonal flu shots. 

“People are struggling nationwide to find seasonal flu vaccinations,” she said. “The companies manufacturing the seasonal flu vaccinations are developing H1N1 vaccines right now. The public should know that the seasonal flu has not shown up yet. Ninety percent of flu that is emerging is H1N1, so right now the H1N1 vaccine is the most pressing vaccine.” 

The Berkeley Public Health Division recommends: 

• Kaiser patients can be vaccinated at Kaiser (the Kaiser Permanente website has 

information about dates, times, and locations). 

• Health care providers in Alameda County outside of Berkeley may have vaccine—families should check with their providers. 

• The Alameda County Public Health Department is offering public H1N1 vaccine clinics at various locations—the Alameda County website has information.