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Free flu vaccines offered in Hillsborough schools next month

By Erin Kourkounis
Published: September 10, 2014 Updated: September 10, 2014 at 08:42 PM

TAMPA — For Hillsborough County public school students, a trip to the drug store or the health department to get vaccinated for the flu won’t be necessary this year. Free vaccinations will be offered at all district schools next month.

Plans with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough are in the works and the effort will be officially rolled out at the end of this month, school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.

The health department is working with Jacksonville-based company Healthy Schools, which will send nurses into schools in 27 Florida districts this year to vaccinate students with a nasal mist.

“We provide this service at no cost to families who have students in the schools to keep everybody healthy and to help keep the flu from becoming a major issue not only in the schools but in the community,” said Tony Boselli, president and founder of Healthy Schools.

The company began working with 12 Florida school districts for the first time last school year to offer the “Teach Flu a Lesson” vaccine program.

The goal is to boost numbers in the state with the lowest rate of vaccinations in the country. In 2012-13, just 34 percent of Floridians received the flu vaccine, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health.

“We have traditionally low vaccination rates and we are trying to get those up,” Hillsborough health department spokesman Steve Huard said.

Parents choose whether to have their children get the vaccinations. Consent forms are being sent home with students and the vaccines will be administered in school clinics Oct. 8-17, Boselli said.

The service comes at no cost to the school district or health department. Healthy Schools has contracts with all of the major health insurance companies, Boselli said.

The last time Hillsborough schools offered flu vaccines on its campuses was in 2009, during the pandemic of H1N1 virus, commonly called “swine flu.” Between April and June that year, more than 1 million cases were identified across the United States, and by April 2010, the number had grown to nearly 61 million cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Nurses vaccinated students, families, and anyone else on Hillsborough’s high school campuses in the evenings.

“That was completely unique,” Hegarty said. “We haven’t done anything like that since then.”

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months or older get vaccinated for the flu, either via shots or the mist, which is sprayed into the nose.

Those who don’t qualify for the mist — including anyone who has had a severe reaction to a flu, a weakened immune system or an egg allergy — may request that Healthy Schools use the shot instead.

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