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More NM children get flu vaccine than in rest of U.S.

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico children received flu vaccinations this season at rates well above the U.S. average, and health officials credit a program that immunized 51,000 kids at school.

About 67 percent of New Mexico children 17 and younger were vaccinated for flu during the 2013-14 flu season – compared to the U.S. rate of 57 percent, federal data show.

New Mexico does particularly well vaccinating elementary and middle-school kids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state provided flu shots for 71 percent of children ages 5 to 12, compared with 59 percent of U.S. youths in that age group. Health officials say the state’s school-based immunization clinics are a key reason for New Mexico’s high vaccination rates.

The clinics immunized about 51,000 children at 450 New Mexico schools during the current flu season, said Dan Burke, manager of the state Department of Health’s immunization program. The season extends generally from October to May.

The school-based clinics are an effective way of minimizing the spread of illness to people of all ages, Burke said.

“The reason we go for the school-age kids is because they are vectors,” he said. As virus circulates among schoolchildren, “they get it, they spread it, they bring it home to mom and grandpa and grandma.”

About 48 percent of New Mexicans of all ages received a flu vaccinations this year, or slightly higher than the U.S. rate of 45 percent, according to the CDC.

The School Kids Influenza Immunization Project began in 2008 at 70 New Mexico schools, and has grown each year since, said Anna Pentler, executive director of the New Mexico Immunization Coalition.

“A lot of the kids who go through our school clinics probably would not be vaccinated otherwise,” Pentler said. “The general sense is that there has been less flu in New Mexico since we started doing the school-based clinics.”

About $860,000 worth of vaccine, paid for largely with federal funding, was dispensed by school and state personnel this season.

“It’s a program that is offered at no cost to the parents,” she said. “They don’t have to take off from work. It’s a great service the schools are providing for their students.”

Dr. Randall Knott, who heads the pediatric urgent care unit at University of New Mexico Hospital, said the school-based clinics are a highly efficient way of quickly vaccinating large numbers of children each year.

“It’s a fabulous way to protect children and everybody else in the community,” he said.