October 28, 2009 - Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today marked the beginning of a three-phase initiative to vaccinate the city's school-age population against H1N1 influenza. The first phase starts today at 125 public elementary school buildings with enrollments of less than 400. Phase two starts November 4 in school buildings with enrollments of more than 600, and the third phase begins November 9 in the remaining schools. Vaccinations will continue at participating elementary schools for approximately eight weeks. Non-public schools that choose to participate in the city's vaccination effort will also receive vaccine during this period. Weekend vaccine sites for middle-school and high-school students will be held in each borough starting in November.
Last week, New York City's elementary school students started taking home vaccine information packets that include consent and screening forms. By signing and returning the forms - also available in 10 languages at nyc.gov/flu – parents can have their children vaccinated free-of-charge against the H1N1 influenza virus.
“The City is making this extra effort to vaccinate children,” said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. “Parents who want to have their children vaccinated may do so at no cost. Since immunization is the best way to prevent the spread of H1N1 in schools and throughout the community, this initiative is essential to the City's influenza-prevention plan.”
The City has put particular emphasis on vaccinating children because they are especially susceptible to novel H1N1 and because vaccinating children also helps prevent the spread of infection from them to adults in the community. “We strongly encourage families to take advantage of this immunization effort,” Commissioner Farley said. “Besides protecting their own children from influenza, parents who take advantage of the vaccinations will help prevent the spread of the virus to others.”
“Our schools are working closely with the Health Department to make sure all of our students receive the vaccine if their parents want them immunized," said Chancellor Klein. "The program is voluntary and we will not vaccinate children without parental consent, so we encourage families to sign the consent forms and send them back to their schools as soon as possible.”
City officials encourage parents to have their children vaccinated by their regular health care providers if possible. Approximately 800 New York City providers who ordered H1N1 vaccine have more than 380,000 doses ready to administer. Additional orders of 220,000 doses have already been placed and New York City providers should be receiving them in the coming days. These providers include hospital clinics and community health centers as well as private pediatricians. Though H1N1 vaccine is now increasingly available for children and health care providers who want to be immunized, the federal government has yet to distribute enough vaccine to fully cover other populations. Federal authorities expect allocations to increase in coming weeks. The school vaccination program is intended to ensure that no school-age child goes unvaccinated for lack of access. Currently, H1N1 influenza is circulating in New York City at low levels.
The H1N1 vaccine comes in two forms: an injection and a nasal spray. Children may receive one form or the other depending information parents provide on the consent and screening forms. Children under 10 years old will need two doses of the vaccine to get full protection.
After school-based vaccination, parents will receive written confirmation that their children have received the vaccine. Parents are instructed to give a copy of the confirmation to the child's medical provider.
The H1N1 vaccine is produced in exactly the same way that seasonal influenza vaccines are produced, and it has undergone the same testing. Influenza vaccines can cause mild side effects, but serious reactions are exceedingly rare.
The H1N1 virus typically causes several days of fever, cough and sore throat. Most people recover quickly without treatment, but the infection can cause severe illness or death, especially among people with underlying health conditions. Because certain people are at increased risk of complications from H1N1 influenza, vaccination is especially important for them. The following people should receive the H1N1 vaccine:
- People 6 months to 24 years old
- Pregnant women
- Health care and emergency medical workers
- People aged 25 to 64 years with long-term health problems
- People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months.
More details are available at nyc.gov/flu or cdc.gov/h1n1flu/. Starting today, the flu locator— accessible from www.nyc.gov/flu— will be updated to include approximately 40 H1N1 vaccine distribution locations.
Although students are being sent home with consent forms, parents can also download the forms from nyc.gov/flu, sign printed copies and send them back to school with their children. All materials are available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. Consent forms will also be available on site at the weekend vaccination clinics the City is holding for middle-school and high-school students during November and December. For more information about these weekend vaccination events, visit nyc.gov/flu or call 311.
New York City Flu Fighters have also been working to promote flu awareness at school events and ensuring other parents are aware of the due date for consent forms for school-based vaccination. New Yorkers interested in becoming a Flu Fighter should visit www.nyc.gov or call 311.