This flu season, Oakland Unified School District’s preschool and elementary school students can now receive the annual influenza vaccine at no cost.

Shoo The Flu, a partnership campaign between OUSD and the Alameda County Public Health Department, aims to reduce the number of influenza cases by administering the flu vaccine on campus through injection or nasal spray. Vaccination clinics launched in early October, and several make up days are planned for the month of December.

According to Erica Pan, director of the Division of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention at the ACPHD, children are classified as “super spreaders” of germs, so administering the flu vaccine in schools ultimately helps prevent the spread of the flu to the wider community, especially where elderly citizens and other young children are concerned.

“If you can vaccinate kids, you’re actually protecting the entire community,” Pan said. “The elderly do not have as strong of an immune response.”

To receive the flu vaccine at school, children need only have a completed consent form signed by a parent or guardian. Faculty and staff at participating schools are also eligible for the vaccine at no cost.

The campaign, funded by The Page Foundation for the next three years, is currently in its pilot year with vaccine clinics offered at one hundred and eleven public, private and charter schools in the Oakland area. Around 8,000 children have already been vaccinated through Shoo The Flu.

The campaign chose the city of Oakland to pilot the program due to ACPHD’s pre-existing relationship with OUSD as well as the diversity of its district’s residents, Pan said.

“We’re providing vaccines to kids regardless of their insurance,” Pan said. “OUSD has a high proportion of kids who are eligible for free lunches and Medi-Cal, and we wanted to provide a service like this for districts that are in need.”

The campaign is also working with the Bay Area Flu Study, created by Jack Colford and Art Reingold of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, to assess the epidemiological impact of the campaign on the rates of influenza and respiratory illnesses of vaccinated children, their families and their communities.

Some factors of the assessment include looking at what percentage of kids are getting vaccinated and what proportion of the vaccinations are being administered at schools through Shoo The Flu. Additionally, Reingold said, Bay Area Flu Study is monitoring any challenges the campaign encounters along the way, which is important to the longevity of the program and its ability to extend beyond Oakland’s borders.

“We’re learning as we go how to do this better and how to reach more kids,” Reingold said. “This is just the beginning, really.”

Antwan Wilson, who joined OUSD as superintendent in July, has high hopes that the campaign will help tackle the district’s issue with chronic absences. Preschool, kindergarten and first grade students frequently miss school when they have the flu, but vaccines on-site will increase the likelihood that students will avoid catching the flu and having to miss school this season, Wilson said.

Wilson also believes that the visibility of the campaign in the community—primarily through banner advertisements around the city–is an opportunity to let Oakland’s residents know that OUSD is committed to keeping its students and their families healthy.

“The focus for us is ensuring that our students are in school,” Wilson said. “I’m hopeful that [Shoo The Flu] continues and becomes a regular part of our practice.”

About The Author

Natalie Meier is currently writing about issues in public health, tech and small business innovation as a freelance contributor for Oakland Local. Meier is a senior at Mills College studying English and Journalism and is also cross-registered at UC Berkeley. She currently interns for ABC7 News in San Francisco and has written for The Daily Californian, Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), StuVoice, and KALW.

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