The Alabama Department of Public Health is planning school vaccination clinics, which will open at the end of the month, but only for students whose parents want them vaccinated against swine flu.
"There's been some confusion. The vaccinations are an option, not mandatory," Calhoun County Schools Superintendent Judy Stiefel said.
Parents who want their children vaccinated at school will have to sign an authorization form, she said.
School immunization clinics have been used before for diseases like polio, Stiefel said.
"Many years ago, the state Department of Health went into schools and gave shots, but that was a long, long time ago," she said.
The clinics, administered by the Health Department, will be in each school throughout the county, including private schools, according to Lori Bell, nursing director for Alabama Public Health Area 6, which includes Calhoun County.
"We're intending to go into every school, but not at the same time because we just don't have the staff," Bell said.
Boards of education and public health officials will meet next week to determine a schedule for the clinics.
Though vaccines should be available for each of the more than 748,000 students in Alabama schools, priority will be given to children 9 and younger first, according to Malissa Valdes, public information specialist for the state Superintendent's Office.
"The (Health Department) has their views that everybody should be vaccinated, but we don't want it to seem like they have to," Valdes said. "We have no particular opinion. It's a personal choice of the parents."
Bell said about 10 contract nurses have been hired to help administer the school clinics. Those nurses are currently working at the Health Department, she said.
"We're utilizing them as much as we can, and we're looking for volunteer nurses to help as well," Bell said. "We're going to have to utilize the staff we already have, but we're trying to impact the health clinics as little as possible."
Registered nurses interested in volunteering to help with the clinics can get information at the Alabama Department of Health Web site.
The supply of vaccines for schoolchildren is trickling in, Bell said. She said eventually there will be one for every student. The first group of young students will receive the flu-mist vaccine, she said.
"By Nov. 30, we should have enough vaccines for everyone," Bell said. "Those kids (9 and younger) are falling into the priority group, and are most at-risk for complications of swine flu. The state health officer and board of education determined the best way to deal with that is to offer the vaccine to all children between the ages of 6 and 24."
Parents have not indicated to the school board how they feel about the clinics, Stiefel said. At least 200 H1N1 vaccines were given at the Calhoun County Health Department Friday morning, according to clinic nurse supervisor Carrie Johnson. The staff vaccinated more than 1,300 people last week, she said.
Stiefel said parents will receive information about the clinics late next week, and a phone number will be provided in that information for parents to call with questions. She said the clinics will probably disrupt students' schedules some, but the schools are planning to keep disruptions to a minimum.
"Anytime you are pulling kids out of instruction, it's going to cause a little bit of disruption," she said. "If we organize and have thought through the plan, and work through it, there should not be much disruption."