LANDOVER – Mieshay Smith’s 4-year-old son, Lawrence Marshall, was “a little apprehensive” as he became one of the first children to receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine at Dodge Park Elementary School in Landover Friday. But it was important to his mother that he got it.
“I just wanted to ensure his education wouldn’t be interrupted due to illness,” said Smith, 31, of Laurel.
Dodge Park was the first school in Maryland to receive the new vaccine, and Smith’s son was one of many children who lined up to get the intranasal FluMist version.
Vaccinating children in their schools is an important part of the fight against the spread of 2009 H1N1 influenza, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was joined at the Prince George’s County School by other officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Prince George’s County Health Officer Dr. Donald Shell.
Other school districts in Maryland are working closely with their local county health departments to develop plans for administering the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, with clinics likely to be either in schools or near schools, said David Paulson, communications director at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Addressing the hesitance some parents may feel about having their children vaccinated because of the newness of the vaccine, Sebelius stressed that it’s the virus that’s new, not the vaccine.
The 2009 H1N1 vaccine is made in the same way as the seasonal vaccine, and if the new virus strain had been identified earlier, it likely would have been included in this year’s seasonal flu vaccine, she said.
It’s far riskier to get the flu than it is to get vaccinated, said Sebelius, who later told the story of a family in Kansas City who lost a child to influenza several years ago after being told by their pediatrician that “it’s just the flu,” she said.
Dr. Jay Butler, an infectious disease specialist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was also at the event, said the notion that “it’s just the flu” is the “worst phrase in all of medicine.” The virus, which can cause serious illness and death, will “put you flat on your back,” he said.
Thus far, 2009 H1N1 has caused nine deaths in Maryland, two of them children.
And the vaccine, Butler said, is “one of the best tools for prevention.”
Children and young people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years are considered a high-risk group for H1N1 influenza, so some of the first available doses of the vaccine are being made available to them, Sebelius said. She stressed that there will be enough vaccine for everyone.
Because children are known to spread illnesses like the flu very rapidly, “we needed to get to schools,” she said.
Duncan said that a big concern is preventing schools from having to close because of illness.
“We want our school doors open,” he said.
The 2009 H1N1 vaccine does not protect against seasonal flu strains, and health officials are urging people to get both vaccines to be as protected as possible against influenza.