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In-school flu shot clinics pave the way for vaccinating kids under twelve against COVID

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Ciara McCaskill
/
The Columbia Missourian
Shelley Sappington, an RN for Columbia/Boone County Public Health & Human Services, administers a shot to Kolton Kelley, 11, during the flu shot clinic at Oakland Middle School on Monday, October 25 in Columbia. Children are at higher risk of getting the flu than adults.

The Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend the COVID vaccine for kids ages 5-11 on Tuesday, and while the shot – COVID-19 vaccines – is new, the idea of immunizing our community’s youngest learners is not.

In fact, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services runs an in-school flu vaccine program that’s uniquely positioned to hit the ground running once COVID-19 doses become available. They’ve been offering this service for 13 years.

“It's a pretty smooth transition from offering flu vaccinations to offering COVID vaccinations for students,” Trina Teacutter, the nursing supervisor at the health department, said. “It's the same process, you know, there's a consent form that parents have to fill out. it's not, it's an opt-in program. It's not required, but it is available.”

“Most kids are just excited to get out of class. They get to hang out with their friends, and it's a shared experience. So, it's nice to be able to fill all their needs, and they're in a safe space.”
Taylor Knoth

Teacutter oversees the program which will serve 59 schools this flu season and has vaccinated between 9 and 10 thousand children every year since 2016. Those numbers took a dip during the pandemic, but she says things are relatively back to normal this flu season.

The program receives funding from the David B. Lichtenstein Foundation and MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital contributes vaccine doses. Students on Medicaid and those without health insurance receive doses through the Centers for Disease Control’s Vaccines for Children Program.

Oakland Middle School was the site of one such clinic on the morning of Oct. 25, where Teacutter’s nephew, 11-year-old Kolton Kelley, received his shot.

“I’d rather do it at school, because um... I don’t really know why,” Kolton said. “I just usually prefer getting it at school.”

Taylor Knoth, one of the nurses administering shots, said she has a theory.

“Most kids are just excited to get out of class,” Knoth said. “They get to hang out with their friends. And it's a shared experience. So it's nice to be able to fill all their needs, and they're in a safe space.”

The team of nurses vaccinated a total of 160 kids in a little over an hour. Knoth said that before she worked for the health department, she wasn’t even aware of many programs they offered. Knoth said the program helps expand access to much needed preventative care.

“There are a lot of barriers, having parents go to individual doctor's appointments, then you have to take off work, and you might have different kids, and they're in different activities,” Knoth said.

Teacutter said they’ve already conducted in-school COVID vaccine clinics for kids 12 and up, so her team of nurses has a good idea of what to expect with the younger generation.

“A lot of the nurses that we had on board for last flu season just stayed on and continued on to do COVID vaccinations for us,” Teacutter said. “And then now that we're back into flu season we're staying on to do flu season so we have some of the same nurses we've had for the whole last year.”

And she added that the clinics are an efficient way to get shots in arms.

“I think it's a fun thing. I don't know that the kids think it's fun, but we try to be as happy and upbeat as we can,” Knoth said. “And then we get them protected.”

Teacutter has already reached out to schools to schedule COVID clinics, but they won’t be starting until the flu shot clinics end on Nov. 11, after which in-school COVID immunizations can begin.