Flu season has arrived and public schoolchildren throughout East Baton Rouge Parish are getting in line to see nurses armed with this season’s influenza vaccine.
Claiborne Elementary School Principal Rochelle Anderson had 142 students
waiting to get vaccinated Thursday, four times more children than last year’s turnout.
Now in her second year as principal of the north Baton Rouge school, Anderson made a stronger push to get families to sign up. She also changed the messaging this year so students wouldn’t get spooked by the idea of being poked by a needle.
“We referred to the flu shot as flu treatment,” Anderson said, adding that some kids would fail to bring packets home when they believed it might lead to them getting a shot.
In any case, most students these days are opting for the nasal spray known as FluMist, though some students, such as those suffering from asthma, still have to take an old-fashioned flu shot.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system began giving free vaccinations in 2008 and in 2013 expanded the program to include middle and high school students. School officials and public health leaders gathered at Claiborne Elementary on Thursday to announce the district’s latest push to vaccinate children against the flu, which began last week and will continue through December and perhaps into January.
Sue Catchings, executive director of the nonprofit Health Centers in Schools, said her nurses typically vaccinate 5,000 to 6,000 students a year. That’s well short of the goal of immunizing 40 percent of the children in the school system, or almost 17,000 students, to achieve what public health professionals call “herd immunity.”
Some elementary schools are either at or close to the 40 percent threshold — Claiborne is about 25 percent — but flu vaccinations are hard to sell in the upper grades.
“Middle and high schools are a whole different story,” Catchings said.
More than 20,000 children nationwide are hospitalized each year because of complications from the flu, and last season, more than 140 children died.
Infected children also spread the flu, particularly to the most vulnerable — sick and elderly adults.
“The children are the vector of this disease,” Catchings said.
East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake said he fully supports the vaccination program and urged families to take advantage of it.
“Parents, it’s critical that you do this for your children,” Drake said.
The private sponsor for the vaccinations is the charitable foundation connected with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which puts up tens of thousands of dollars each year to buy vaccines not covered by government medical insurance.
State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry said this year’s flu season just got underway, but the new flu vaccine looks like it’s working.
“This year, the vaccine is a much better match than last year,” Guidry said, adding last year’s was only 35 percent to 40 percent effective.