New York City officials began administering swine flu vaccine to schoolchildren Wednesday in an effort to head off a repeat of last spring’s outbreak that sickened hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and closed dozens of schools.
In the first phase of the program, students at 125 of the city’s smaller elementary schools started receiving the vaccine in either the nasal spray or injection form.
“It kind of hurt a little,” said 9-year-old Jessica Osorio, who got a swine flu shot at Public School 157 in Brooklyn. “I was a little nervous but then I got used to it.”
School nurses will administer the vaccine over the next several weeks to students whose parents have signed consent forms.
Polls have shown that many parents nationwide do not want their children to be vaccinated against swine flu at school. The rate of New York City parents returning the consent forms varies by school from more than 50 percent to less than 10 percent, health department officials said.
At P.S. 157, where the members of the media were invited to watch children roll up their sleeves and get their shots, about 30 percent of parents have turned in the consent forms so far.
School officials played down any suggestion that parents are wary of the vaccine.
“A lot of parents are taking children to their own doctors,” said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “So this is not the whole story.”
The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, said there were 40,000 doses set aside for the first wave of schools.
As of last week, the city had received about 300,000 doses of vaccine and was distributing them to doctors, hospitals, clinics and schools, Farley said. By the end of this week, the city expects to have received 800,000 doses, below the 1.2 million it initially thought it would get.
“We do think ultimately we’ll have ample vaccine for everybody for whom it’s recommended,” Farley said at P.S. 157.
“The vaccine is safe, the virus is here, the virus can be serious, so people should receive the vaccine,” he added.
P.S. 157’s principal, Maribel Torres, said some parents were having their children vaccinated by private doctors. She said she hadn’t heard of many parents not wanting their children to get the vaccine.
But Manon Zinzell, who has a first-grader and a fourth-grader at P.S. 150 in Tribeca, one of the other schools in the first wave of vaccinations, said she and her husband had decided against the vaccine.
“There seems to be not enough evidence that our kids are in any danger,” Zinzell said. She believes that without vaccination her children might catch the flu, but would “just get it and fight it.”
The first phase of the school vaccine program involves elementary schools with fewer than 400 students. The second phase will start Nov. 4 at elementary schools with more than 600 students. Phase 3, on Nov. 9, will cover all remaining elementary schools. Private schools will have the option of participating.
Students attending middle schools and high schools will be offered flu shots during weekends in November and December.
Also on Wednesday, New York Hospital Queens administered the swine flu vaccine on a first-come, first-served basis at a community center in the Fresh Meadows neighborhood. About 75 people were lined for the vaccine before the program started, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the swine flu virus, first identified in April, has killed at least 1,000 Americans and caused at least mild illness in many millions of others.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that 750,000 to 1 million New Yorkers got swine flu last spring. Most recovered completely within four to five days.
New York is seeing only a slight uptick in flu-like illness this fall, said Farley, the health commissioner.
He said that fewer than 2 percent of people coming to hospital emergency rooms would normally be there because of influenza-like illness.
“Now we’re seeing about 2 1/2 percent,” Farley said. “But in the spring we saw between 4 percent and 13 percent.”
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