Warding off the dreaded flu bug just got easier for Florida students.
Since last year, 16 more counties have joined expanding program efforts against the threat of influenza this season to better protect communities.
Almost half of Florida’s 67 counties are now participating in the “Teach Flu a Lesson” program, a campaign promoted by Healthy Schools LLC and Families Fighting Flu (FFF).
“Teach Flu a Lesson” began its pilot launch last year and allows children in grade school the opportunity to receive the nasal-inhaled flu vaccine, FluMist Quadrivalent, at no cost, even without medical insurance.
“The program has grown significantly this season, and a lot more counties have joined on and are participating,” said Laura Scott, the executive director of FFF.
Healthy Schools vaccinated a total of 11,000 students in northeast Florida during the 2013 flu season. This year, Healthy Schools and FFF hope to vaccinate more than 200,000 students across the state after they announced their partnership in September.
“Children are the key spreaders of influenza,” Scott said. “We’re kind of building this cocoon around the children to make sure that the elderly and other people within the community don’t get sick.”
Fewer than 1,000 children were vaccinated in Duval County during the program’s pilot season last year, and the program mostly focused vaccinating north of Volusia County.
This year, however, the program has vaccinated about 13,000 children so far at 163 schools in Duval County alone between Sept. 2 and Sept. 8, according to Katie Luebker, vice president of operations of Healthy Schools.
Luebker said the program recently expanded with two additional offices, in Ft. Lauderdale and Lakeland, to service regions of Florida in addition to its Jacksonville headquarters.
Healthy Schools is the only private company in Florida currently operating this type of program, according to the organization’s website.
Caroline Wiles, the executive assistant of Healthy Schools, said the program has expanded to 10 teams of nurses who each service about 30 schools a day.
“We are the largest (vaccination program for influenza) in the state of Florida, absolutely, and are eventually looking to expand outside of Florida,” Wiles said.
Healthy Schools is a company that focuses on providing flu vaccines to elementary through high school students at no cost to families, schools or health departments, according to the website.
FFF is a national advocacy organization, located in Arlington, Va., primarily made up of families who have lost children to influenza or whose families have experienced the tragedy of having a child hospitalized due to the disease.
Wiles said Healthy Schools and FFF recently partnered to spread awareness about the influenza virus and the importance of being vaccinated while in school.
“Our partnership is trying to get across the importance of vaccinations each year, as well as knowing the facts about flu,” Wiles said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how potentially harmful the virus can be.”
The program is also implementing voluntary staff vaccinations through county request only, but it varies by county.
Luebker said Palm Beach and Okaloosa counties have already requested staff vaccinations, and she imagines most counties will next year.
“Teach Flu a Lesson” will be vaccinating Hillsborough County from Oct. 8 to Oct. 17, and the program will then tackle Polk and Seminole counties.
The program will continue to run clinics in schools all the way through Christmas break in December.
“We’re on a much bigger scale here, and it’s incredible,” Luebker said. “It’s been an adventure, and it’s been exciting to work with new staff.”