TAMPA — There were a few whimpers but no tears Tuesday as the Hillsborough County School District began its first round of vaccinations against swine flu at the Caminiti Exceptional Student Education Center.
Six-year-old Sarah Knox, who is mentally handicapped, clutched her mother as county nurses approached with a syringe containing an inactivated version of the H1N1 vaccine. But with a quick jab, it was all over.
"I did not have a second thought," said her mother, Lisa, referring to the decision to vaccinate her child. "But I did talk to her pediatrician first."
About 55 percent of Hillsborough parents agree with her, according to a telephone survey conducted Monday night by the district.
Of the 25,551 families that responded to the automated poll, 14,034 said they planned to vaccinate their children against swine flu, said spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. About 24 percent of families said they would not vaccinate, while 21 percent said they were undecided.
That response rate, out of 134,588 automated calls delivered, was "higher than we ever expected," she said.
Hillsborough parents were far less likely to voice fears of the H1N1 vaccine than those who responded to a national poll conducted earlier this month by the Associated Press.
In that poll, 38 percent of parents said they were "unlikely to give permission for their kids to be vaccinated at school," while 59 percent said they would do so.
Federal officials insist the vaccine is safe, and has been manufactured in the same manner as the seasonal flu vaccine.
"We know it's safe and secure," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "This is definitely a safe vaccine for people to get."
It wasn't a close call for Lisa Knox. Her daughter, who was vaccinated Tuesday, has a rare genetic disorder that has delayed her mental development. Both her hearing and vision are impaired, and she uses a feeding tube. Those health issues put her at greater risk of complications if she contracts the H1N1 virus.
"I think that (parents) should talk to their pediatrician first," said Knox, who works at Caminiti as an aide. "If their doctor is okay with it, then they should be okay with it."
Hillsborough officials this week are inoculating students at special-needs schools and career centers, including those with chronic health conditions. The H1N1 shots, or an activated version of the vaccine in nasal mist form, will be administered by nurses on contract with the Hillsborough County Health Department.
Each student must have a signed parent permission slip to get vaccinated, officials said.
Next week, high school and middle school students in the general population can get vaccinated at Freedom, King, Middleton, Spoto and East Bay high schools, and Liberty, Greco, Giunta and Eisenhower middle schools.
Elementary students will be inoculated after school hours with a parent present beginning Nov. 2, depending on the availability of the vaccine, officials said.
>> This week: Students with special needs, students at career centers and students with chronic health problems are being inoculated.
>> Next week: Middle and high school students can be vaccinated. The vaccines will be administered at Liberty, Greco, Giunta and Eisenhower middle schools, and Freedom, King, Middleton, Spoto and East Bay high schools.