TAMPA — Hillsborough schools plan next week to become the first in the Tampa Bay region to begin vaccinating students against the swine flu epidemic.
Hillsborough health officials and school leaders on Tuesday announced plans to offer the vaccine to the most vulnerable students — those with certain disabilities — starting Monday. They expect to make it more widely available the following week to the district's middle and high schools.
"We've been on the defensive, but now we can go on the offensive" said Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the Hillsborough County Health Department.
The health departments in Hillsborough and Pinellas late last week received their first shipments of the vaccine for swine flu, or the H1N1 virus.
But Pinellas does not expect to start school vaccinations until next month. It will be available at school sites at the end of the school day to avoid disruptions.
Pasco school officials expect their vaccines to arrive by the end of the month. By then, Hernando also hopes to have enough doses to offer the vaccine at community clinics, which may be held at two high schools on the weekends.
In Hillsborough, where the plans are the most advanced, officials still are asking parents to be patient, noting that vaccine supplies, which may vary from week to week, will determine the pace of the program.
They expect to make the first vaccines available on Monday at Hillsborough's exceptional education centers, which serve students with varying disabilities.
They expect to have vaccines available at some middle and high schools beginning the week of Oct. 26. Only students whose parents have signed permission forms can receive the vaccine, which will be administered by nurses contracted through the health department during school hours. The forms will begin going home with students this week.
Parents of elementary-age students can bring their children to neighborhood high schools to receive the vaccine. Beginning Oct. 26, the health department will operate these vaccination clinics between 3:30 and 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
Parents will be updated through automated phone messages.
Already, Hillsborough health officials are working with pediatricians and colleges to make the first doses available to pre-school children and college-age students.
They expect supplies to become more widely available to the public in the coming weeks and are working with medical providers to get it to people most vulnerable to swine flu complications, such as pregnant women.
Demand is expected to exceed supply for the next few weeks, but health officials hope to see a leveling off by mid November. They aim to complete the school-based vaccinations by mid-December.
Times reporters Richard Martin, Jeffrey Solochek and Tony Marrero contributed to this story. Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.