To keep more children out of hospitals and protect the community from preventable disease, county health officials are targeting high-risk populations and hot spots where the flu is most contagious.
On Tuesday, Gainesville High School students received flu mist through a nine-year-old countywide program called “Control Flu.” This is a collaborative effort among UF Health Shands, Alachua County school system and the county health department.
“We are starting to see a slight uptick in [flu] cases,” said Paul Myers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department. He said the flu season is not yet in full swing.
While the flu season varies over the year, it’s longer in Florida than the north where it’s colder in the winter season. In Alachua County, the season can start near Thanksgiving and last until April.
“About 80 percent of the people who die from the flu aren’t vaccinated,” said UF Health Pediatrician Dr. Kathleen Ryan. While she acknowledges certain imperfection of flu vaccines, she said getting the vaccination can reduce the chances of the flu and also make the symptoms less severe.
She added none of the children in Florida who died from the flu last year was vaccinated, and last year’s toll underscores the importance of getting a flu vaccine each year. Influenza killed about 80,000 people in the United States in the 2017-2018 season, according to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ryan said there was a 40 percent decrease in immunization rates when “Control Flu” started to administer flu shots, but this year’s option of flu mists result in more than 9,000 vaccinations in Alachua County.
“In general, students prefer the mist over the shot,” Ryan said, “It doesn’t matter because the most important message everybody needs to hear is: you need a flu vaccine.”
The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months get a yearly seasonal flu vaccine. Myers said 40 percent of the students have also received free vaccines funded through a CDC grant, while others mostly have their insurance plan cover the vaccine’s cost.
Health officials are hoping to finish delivering influenza vaccines to every public, charter, and private school in the district right after Thanksgiving.