ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than 200 students at East San José Elementary School were all grins and giggles this week as they lined up outside the nurse’s office for flu vaccinations.
But for health officials, the job of providing flu vaccines to at least 42,000 students statewide this fall has a serious purpose that should extend benefits far beyond the walls of New Mexico’s 440 participating schools.
“Our goal is less influenza in children and less influenza in the community in general,” said Dr. Ralph Hansen, medical director of the New Mexico Department of Health’s metro region in Albuquerque.
“There’s a substantial minority of citizens that have substantial complications and even death” from flu, Hansen said. “The child who gets sick can infect an elderly grandmother or someone in a grocery store checkout line.”
New Mexico launched the School Kids Immunization Project, or SKIP, in 2008 with the initial goal of offering free flu vaccines to students at a handful of schools, said Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition.
But an enthusiastic response from school administrators expanded the pilot program to 75 schools that fall and about twice that number in 2009, she said. “The response was just overwhelming,” she said.
The program has expanded each year since its launch. This year, the program added 20 schools, increasing participation to more than a third of New Mexico’s approximately 1,200 schools, Pentler said. The vaccine is paid for by the federal Vaccines for Children program.
Elizabeth Miller, the school nurse at East San José Elementary, said the one-day clinic on Wednesday vaccinated about a third of the school’s approximately 600 students.
Participating students received permission from parents who filled out packets sent home with students about two weeks ago, she said.
Most students received a nasal vaccine called FluMist that delivers a live, attenuated virus to the child’s sinuses. About 25 students with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, received a flu shot.