Yu Ming Helps “Shoo the Flu”
Students and staff at Yu Ming Charter School lined up early October to get free flu vaccines as part of the Alameda County Public Health Department’s new “Shoo the Flu” program. The goal of the community-based initiative, a partnership with the Oakland Unified School District and the California Department of Public Health, is to prevent seasonal flu in the community by offering school-based vaccines to students and on-site staff at no charge.
Yu Ming helped kick off the Shoo the Flu campaign by being the first of 110 pre-K and elementary schools throughout Oakland to participate. Last year, Yu Ming was one of five schools in Alameda County to take part in a school-based flu vaccination project that served as a pilot for this year’s program.
More than 150 students with signed consent forms and 23 adults at Yu Ming got either a nasal spray or a shot on Friday, Oct. 3. A makeup day and opportunity for second-dose boosters is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 5.
“Offering flu vaccines for free at schools, regardless of health insurance status, makes it really convenient for children to get immunized,” said Yu Ming parent Dr. Erica Pan, director of the county health department’s Division of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention. “By doing this, we hope to increase immunization rates in school-aged children and thereby decrease the flu burden in the wider community.”
The campaign is targeting schools because children are particularly good at spreading infections to each other, to caregivers and to their family members. Studies have shown that immunizing children provides a lot of bang for the buck by decreasing overall levels of flu in the entire community.
Preventing the spread of influenza is particularly important for vulnerable groups that are at greater risk of severe complications from the flu. Such groups include the elderly, infants and pregnant women, as well as those with chronic health conditions including asthma and weakened immune systems.
And while news about the Ebola epidemic has dominated recent headlines, health officials point out that influenza is much easier to spread and far more dangerous, especially in this country.
The severity of the flu season is hard to predict year to year, but flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of 49,000 people annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Alameda County alone, it is estimated that 111,000 to 189,000 people contract the flu annually, costing an estimated $123 to $240 million when factoring in the loss from missed work because of illness and direct healthcare costs.
Health officials recommend flu vaccines for everyone over six months of age. The Shoo the Flu program is offering free flu vaccinations to approximately 30,000 children in Oakland elementary schools this season.
“We hope that at least half of those children participate,” Pan said.
To measure the success of the campaign, the Alameda County Public Health Department is partnering with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health to evaluate the effectiveness of the school-based vaccination through the Bay Area Flu Study.
The Page Family Foundation is providing funding and support for the Shoo the Flu program.