Fighting the flu

Fighting the flu

By April Frawley Birdwell

Alachua County’s Control Flu program has received $1.5 million from the county’s CHOICES program to continue providing free FluMist vaccines to area school children for the next 15 years.

The funds, which Alachua County commissioners awarded to the program, not only will ensure that the free vaccinations continue but also will allow experts to more extensively evaluate and improve the program.

“The big issue with school-based programs is sustainability,” said Kathleen Ryan, M.D., a UF associate professor of pediatrics and medical director of the Control Flu program. “Having the funding allows us to do the important job of immunizing the kids and also evaluating whether the program works.

“Every year we spend lots of time running around making sure we can do the program. Now that we have this, we can we settle in and actually do the program and work on making it better.”

The program, which is a joint effort of UF, the Alachua County Health Department and Alachua County Public Schools, was established in 2007. The program’s goal is to immunize 70 percent of Alachua County school children for the flu. They have made steady progress in immunizing elementary- and middle-school age children, but hope to extensively improve immunization rates in high school students.

“The FluMist program is a very proactive and cost-effective approach to combatting flu outbreaks and the devastating results that follow,” said Alachua County Commission Chair Mike Byerly. “This program is a great example of community partners coming together to safeguard our citizens. I am proud that the County Commission chose to fund this very worthy program.”