EPI's influenza immunization program a model for nation

Alachua County residents may be among the most protected in the United States against contracting influenza, and it’s all possible because of a three-year volunteer-driven campaign coordinated by interprofessional leaders from UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute to immunize children in local schools.

“It’s absolutely clear that the success of this program is due to the collaboration of the health department and school board … and the teachers, because without their support we would go nowhere,” said Parker A. Small, M.D., a professor emeritus in the College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine.

In 2010, members of the Alachua County FluMist Program vaccinated 65 percent of school children in Alachua County, a rate that was maintained from the group’s 2009 vaccination campaign. Volunteers were able to provide the FluMist for free because of contributions from CHOICES, AvMed Healthcare, Wal-Mart and the county health department.

The coalition, comprised of UF faculty, students, pediatricians, school nurses, community leaders and volunteers, celebrated this achievement at a ceremony recently at Littlewood Elementary.

“The immunization you have achieved here is very unique,” said Nichole Bobo, nursing education director of the National Association of School Nurses, who spoke at the event. “The public has forgotten about the importance of immunization.”

Two years ago, when the H1N1 pandemic hit, health departments across the country saw an upsurge in parents who sought flu vaccinations for their children because it provided some protection against H1N1. When the pandemic was no longer a threat, the drive for vaccinations waned.

However, the Alachua County program continued to provide FluMist vaccinations to students in grades Pre-K to 12, helping sustain flu vaccination rates. UF nursing students, many of whom participate in the program, help inform parents of school-aged children about the importance of flu prevention. The FluMist program is part of a UF nursing curriculum that focuses on population care.

Health experts often say that schools are virus exchange systems and children are considered “super spreaders” because they spread more of the virus and do so for a longer period of time than adults. Studies indicate that if 70 percent of school children are immunized against the flu, the entire community can be protected.

Cuc Tran, FluMist program coordinator who facilitates the initiative from the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, is creating a toolkit with the National Association of School Nurses in order to help school nurses replicate the program nationwide.

For more information about Alachua County FluMist program, email Tranc@epi.ufl.edu.