COLUMBIA — Free H1N1 vaccines will be available to all students enrolled in Columbia public schools.
The vaccine, to be provided in cooperation with the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department, is recommended for children ages 6 months to 24 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mary Laffey, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources, said the vaccine is being offered to all students with parental consent.
Although the vaccine is not mandatory, both the school system and medical professionals urge every student to get the vaccine.
"We take our lead from the city Health Department, and this is being deemed a health risk," Laffey said. "Our making it available is an attempt to make it as streamlined and efficient as possible for students to receive the vaccine."
As yet, the district has no information on when the vaccine will be available. Laffey said 900 doses of the vaccine delivered to Boone County this week have primarily been allocated to physicians' offices.
When the vaccine becomes available, the district will start with a smaller school to work out any logistical kinks.
"With 17,000 students, this is going to be a massive undertaking," Laffey said. "We want to know we have the vaccine in hand before mobilizing teachers and parents."
Parental consent will be required before students can be vaccinated. Students at the third-grade level and younger must have a parent or guardian present in order to receive the vaccine.
Above the fourth-grade level, students can bring in a signed consent form and receive the vaccine without a parent present.
Laffey also recommended that anyone with a pre-existing condition or fragile immune system consult with a doctor before receiving the vaccine.
According to a Health Department release, the department "hopes to remove barriers some parents face in vaccinating their children and reduce the spread of disease in the community."
A University of Michigan study indicates that 40 percent of parents plan to immunize their children against H1N1, while 54 percent of parents plan to seek immunization against the seasonal flu.
According to the CDC, while older and younger people very young are at highest risk for seasonal flu, the age groups that appear to be hit the hardest by the novel H1N1 flu are children and young adults.
Jeff Hoelscher, media relations coordinator for MU Health Care, offered one reason for this.
"We see patients above 65 are at high risk for seasonal flu, whereas they are not as affected by H1N1," he said. "The thinking is that some strain of H1N1 has been around for 50 or 60 years, so that age group had previous exposure and has some resistance to it."
Hoelscher said that novel H1N1 is influenza but a different strain.
"Influenza is a very serious condition, and we highly recommend that everyone be vaccinated every year," he said.
Because of the way the vaccine is produced, people with egg allergies should receive the vaccine in mist form, rather than injection, according to Hoelscher.
Parents will be notified when the vaccine is available to Columbia students. More information on flu prevention is available at FightTheFluMo.com.