TAMPA — Vaccinations for swine flu should be starting in Hillsborough County schools by Oct. 19, superintendent MaryEllen Elia said Tuesday.
But parents of elementary school children should be prepared to make a visit to school if they want their child to get a shot.
While middle and high school students can get vaccinations for the H1N1 virus during school hours, elementary students will be getting vaccinated only after school — and only with a parent present.
"For elementary students, parents will be with their child so we can ensure that we have the forms for every child before any vaccine is given," Elia said.
There was never any question about the need to get permission slips signed before a child gets vaccinated, officials said. Those forms are being reviewed by the School Board's lawyer and will be going home next week in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese and Russian.
But given the potential for crying children, not to mention the chance of a young child accidentally getting vaccinated without consent, the district decided to take the extra precaution for elementary students.
Elia predicted the measure would not result in fewer elementary students being vaccinated. She cited a tuberculosis outbreak last year, in which many parents brought their children to a high school for shots.
"We believe this is the most appropriate way, so we can ensure parents have control over their children's vaccinations," she said.
Controlling parent anxiety and encouraging everyone to get a shot has been at the top of health officials' agendas lately.
A recent Consumer Reports poll found that only 35 percent of parents were definitely planning to get their children vaccinated.
Public health officials insist the vaccine is not only safe and tested, but a critical measure in preventing further deaths.
The H1N1 virus has been linked to at least 600 U.S. deaths, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are hoping to inoculate more than half the nation.
"What we're looking at now is vaccinating as many people as want to be vaccinated in as short a period of time as possible," CDC director Thomas Frieden said.
At-risk groups are due to be vaccinated first, including children, pregnant women, and health care workers. Even within that group, the county plans to focus on those with chronic health problems first, before moving on to the general population.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.