The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the importance of the flu vaccine at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)
The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the upcoming school flu shot campaign at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

Children at more than 100 Oakland schools are eligible for free flu shots this fall as part of a new program aimed at protecting children and the broader community against influenza. All pre-K students through fifth grade at public, private, charter and parochial schools are eligible. At some schools, students through sixth or eighth grade may participate.

It’s all part of Shoo the Flu, a collaboration between the Alameda County Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health and the Oakland Unified School District.

“It’s important to vaccinate young children to help protect the whole community,” said Dr. Erica Pan, deputy health officer with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Last year there were 100,000 illnesses related to flu, she said. Direct and indirect costs of the illness, including parents missing work to care for sick children, range from $123 million to $240 million per year.

While flu shots are recommended for everyone over six months of age, fewer than half of children receive them, both nationally and in Alameda County.

Flu can be a serious illness. Each year, about 20,000 children nationally are hospitalized with complications of the flu. Last year, 100 children died. Ninety percent of them were not vaccinated, and 40 percent of them had “no recognizable chronic health problems,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

A flu vaccine is not a guarantee you or your child will not get the flu. But, if you do get sick, you are likely to have a more mild course of illness.

Shoo the Flu targets young children for vaccines because they are “super spreaders” of germs, Pan said, “and their immune systems respond better to vaccines.” Since children’s immune systems rev up so effectively after the vaccine, it helps to create a blanket of protection for a community.

Vaccinating kids at school makes it easy to protect a multitude of children at once. “This is a great opportunity to bring the service to the site where kids are already,” Pan said. Staff members at participating schools are also eligible for free shots.

Schools will be sending home permission forms. Parents must sign the forms and send them back. In-school vaccines are set to begin across Oakland in October. Children whose parents consent will receive the vaccine during school hours, free of charge.

Kids may not necessarily receive the traditional shot. Children ages 2-8 are eligible for the nasal spray version of the vaccine, as long as they are otherwise healthy.

The program is funded by the Page Family Foundation, a fund created by Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and CEO.

Author

Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED's State of Health blog. Since 2011, she's been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco's CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for "Best Topical Reporting" from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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