WASHINGTON — Schoolchildren could be first in line for swine flu vaccine this fall — and schools are being put on notice that they might be turned into shot clinics.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday she is urging school superintendents around the country to spend the summer preparing for that possibility, if the government goes ahead with mass vaccinations.
"If you think about vaccinating kids, schools are the logical place," Sebelius said.
No decision has been made on whether and how to vaccinate millions of Americans against the new flu strain that the World Health Organization last week formally dubbed a pandemic, meaning it now is circulating unchecked. But the United States is pouring money into development of a vaccine in anticipation of giving some people the shots.
While swine flu doesn't yet seem any more lethal than the regular flu that each winter kills 36,000 people in the U.S. alone, scientists fear it may morph into a more dangerous type. Even in its current form, the WHO says about half of the more than 160 people worldwide killed by swine flu were previously young and healthy.
If that trend continues, "the target may be school-age children as a first priority" for vaccination, Sebelius said Tuesday. "That's being watched carefully."
Companies are on track to provide pilot doses for testing later this summer, Sebelius said. The government-led studies will check if the vaccine seems to work, if one dose or two will be needed and, most important, if it's safe.