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Nationwide, schools prepare to set up flu-shot clinics

WASHINGTON - Hundreds of schools are heeding the government's call to set up flu-shot clinics this fall, preparing for what could be the most widespread school vaccinations since the days of polio.

An Associated Press review of swine flu planning suggests there are nearly 3 million students in districts where officials want to offer the vaccine once federal health officials begin shipping it in mid-October.

Many more may get involved: The National School Boards Association told the AP three-quarters of the districts in a recent survey agreed to allow vaccinations in school buildings.

On Long Island, school districts will be making the decision to vaccinate in consultation with health officials in the fall.

Nassau and Suffolk health officials plan to discuss the possibility of making schools and universities "Points of Distribution" for H1N1 vaccines when the vaccine is available.

On September 11, the Long Island College and University Security Consortium will host a conference with Nassau health officials to discuss the latest recommendations on H1N1 for institutions of higher education.

Other strategies will also be in place. For example, Gary Kaczmarczyk, director of environmental health and safety at Stony Brook University, said the school will distribute hand sanitizers in areas where many people may touch or handle single items. Computer stations, he said, are an area where sanitizers will be placed.

Schools around the country are using similar tactics. To make sure students wash their hands, Minneapolis schools have outfitted every restroom with tamper-proof soap dispensers, so students don't horse around with soap. And the district has a no-excuses policy to keep them filled.

"It sounds so simple, but it works," said district emergency management director Craig Vana.

But hundreds of districts are preparing for vaccinations. At least 700 health and school officials joined an online seminar last week by the National Association of County & City Health Officials on how to run school flu vaccinations.

The government is awaiting results of vaccine studies that began last week before making a final decision on whether and how to offer swine-flu inoculations. If vaccinations go forward, children are to be among the first in line. They could get the vaccine at a variety of places, but federal officials want schools to play a starring role.

"The vaccine over time will be available to every child," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with the AP.

Cases of the swine flu are already emerging. In Lee County, Miss., schools have reported a few cases of swine flu the first week of school, and a Louisiana high school football team reported 20 players sick or recovering from it.

In South Carolina, "there will be a massive attempt to use schools as vaccination centers," said state Superintendent Jim Rex. He plans at least one vaccination clinic in each of the state's 85 school districts.

South Dakota started offering free children's vaccination against regular winter flu in 2007, and this year it plans to offer both kinds in many schools, said state Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth.

The goal is to keep schools open; federal officials said last week schools should close only as a last resort. The emergence of the never-before-seen flu strain last spring prompted more than 700 schools to temporarily close, giving students an unexpected vacation as parents scrambled to find child care.

Some big states, like California, Ohio and Massachusetts, are focusing on alternate strategies because they don't know how much vaccine the federal government will send or when it will arrive.

Boston has decided against in-school vaccinations because an attempt at regular winter flu inoculations at a middle school last year flopped, and Dallas officials also have decided against school shots.

With Delthia Ricks

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