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Demand for H1N1 vaccine low at Ashland schools

Demand for the H1N1 vaccine at Ashland schools has been much lower than health officials had hoped, leading them to worry that a resurgence of the virus could cause hundreds of students to become ill.

"It concerns me because we haven't even reached real flu season yet — that's usually is in late December or early January," said Judy Blickenstaff, a nurse practitioner who works at the Ashland High School health center. "We can't make people get vaccinated, but we're offering it as freely and conveniently as we can."

About 150 students have received the vaccine through Ashland schools, since it became available late last month. There are 2,798 students in the district.

Health officials believe that skepticism toward vaccines in general may be contributing to the low demand. Ashland has one of the lowest vaccination rates among school age children in the nation, as many parents opt not to vaccinate their children for religious, cultural or health reasons.

"This is not an area that has a lot of enthusiasm about vaccinations to start with," Blickenstaff said.

Also, parents who believe their children already had the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, may not feel the need to have them vaccinated, she said.

The number of H1N1-related absences in the district peaked in the seven days ending Oct. 15, when 386 students were absent with flu symptoms.

Since then, the number of absences due to flu symptoms has substantially decreased.

However, Blickenstaff said she and other health officials are recommending that those without proof that they had H1N1 consider receiving the vaccine.

The schools still have plenty of nasal mist and injectable doses of the vaccine available.

"The demand has not been there," Blickenstaff said Thursday. "People haven't been calling or coming in very much."

Parents of Ashland middle and elementary school students have been slightly more interested in having their students receive the vaccine than parents of high school students, said school nurse Belinda Brown.

Although she said she was also concerned by the low demand for the vaccine, Brown said it could be partially attributed to the fact that some students already received the vaccine through their primary health providers or the county health clinics.

"I think it's kind of key to remember that we're not the only location where people can get the vaccine," she said.

The schools are offering the vaccine for free to all students and to district employees with secondary health conditions.

Ashland High School has about 110 doses of the vaccine left. The middle and elementary schools have about 30 doses of the nasal mist vaccine left and more than 200 doses of the injectable vaccine left, after receiving additional doses this week.

It appears the schools will be able to request more vaccine if they run low, health officials said.

The injectable vaccine is designed to be given to people with secondary health conditions and the nasal mist vaccine is designed to be given to all others.

Because Brown doesn't anticipate being able to distribute all of the injectable vaccine at Ashland schools, she plans to hold vaccination clinics at Talent and Phoenix schools soon, she said.

Brown said she had anticipated that even fewer students would receive the vaccine because of parental attitudes toward vaccinations.

"I was probably more surprised that as many people opted for it as they did," she said. "It's an issue that we're always dealing with as far as the number of exemptions and people that don't choose to vaccine at all."

School health officials are encouraging parents who have questions about the vaccine to call or e-mail them.

"Every parent believes they're doing their best for their child and it is a parental choice to have their child vaccinated," Brown said, "but if they have questions, we'd be happy to help them with that."

To schedule a vaccination appointment at Ashland High School, call 482-8771 ext 226. To schedule an appointment for a student in a district middle or elementary school, e-mail Brown at nurse@ashland.k12.or.us.

Children who are not enrolled in Ashland public schools and other community members can receive the H1N1 vaccine through Jackson County health offices or their doctors. For more information call the Jackson County Immunization Hotline at 774-6444.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.