• School district gives tips on HINI preparation and other vaccines
Homer Tribune staff
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has a few new things in store for the school year, set to begin Aug. 24.
In addition to the usual new notebooks and pencils, some elementary school students in Alaska will need immunizations before school starts this fall.
Children in kindergarten through sixth grade will need to show proof that they have received two varicella (chickenpox) vaccinations; that they have received the first vaccine and are in the waiting period for the second; or that they already have had the disease. Children in preschool and Head Start or those attending child care who are not yet in elementary school will continue to need only one varicella vaccination.
Another school immunization regulation require that students who need a 10 year Td (tetanus/diphtheria) booster, typically age 14 to 16, receive Tdap vaccine (tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis). Outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough, are occurring in Alaska communities. This disease can be devastating to infants.
According to World magazine, Internet chatter on several health blogs and medical discussion Web sites indicates some concerned parents have begun toying with the idea of “swine flu” parties to inoculate their children from potential future strains of the virus that could prove more deadly.
After much hype and fear-mongering, the current strain of the disease has proven rather mild, with 302 confirmed deaths in America, out of some 44,000 confirmed infections – though many analysts put the figure of unreported U.S. infections at approximately 1 million.
Future strains are not expected to be so mild. Federal health officials have expressed concern that H1N1 could infect up to 40 percent of Americans over the next two years, potentially resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths if vaccination campaigns fail. The World Health Organization says the number of global cases could balloon to 2 billion.
One kind of vaccine might help prepare parents and children for getting inoculated with the H1N1 vaccination – when one is available. Bonnie Betley, a Public Health nurse in Homer said a clinic will be held 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Elks in a mass dispensing of the Chicken Pox Varicella vaccine.
“We’re doing it kind of as a practice run for the influenza vaccine. We’re expecting to vaccinate about 200 children in those two hours,” she said. “We’re preparing for the H1N1 and the seasonal flu vaccine, which we hope to do in much the same way. So far, we haven’t heard yet when we will be receiving the flu vaccines.”
They are preparing to see more cases of the H1N1 flu once the school year gets underway. “This one didn’t go away over the summer like most seasonal flu does. We continued to see cases throughout the summer, which is kind of unusual. We haven’t seen anything like it for the past 40 years. It has the potential to become pretty serious, so we just want to be prepared for that,” Betley said.
The Centers for Disease Control has not yet indicated who should get the vaccine first. “But I would guess that pregnant women and families with school-age children in the home would go to the top of the list. They are still trying to work all of that out.”
There is no vaccine available for infants – under 6 months.
Homer High School students will meet new Principal Allan Gee, who is moving to Homer from Georgia. At Homer Elementary new principal John Hurley, most recently from Metlakatla, takes over. Nanwalek welcomes a new principal, Scott Hanley from Laramie, Wyo. The Seldovia School Principal, Cheryl Hingley, will share her time with Port Graham.
New District Superintendent Steve Atwater said one of the biggest changes coming this school year is the infusion of $9.7 million in stimulus funds the district will be able to use to bolster infrastructure and help with teachers’ professional development.
“We’re fortunate to take advantage of this funding. It’s only a 2-year shot and it can’t be spent for something that has to be sustained,” Atwater said. School buildings are owned by the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which will help make decisions on how the money is to be spent.
Certain schools in the lower 48 are using stimulus funding to pay for teacher salaries as they wrestle with tight budget issues. “We’re in a good place, but we can’t use it to enlarge our staff and hire more people.
Public testimony on how the money should best be spent continues from conversations started last school year throughout the district. More should be known later this fall, Atwater said.
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