Swine flu shots coming to local district

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Swine flu shots will be offered free to Vicksburg Warren School District students this fall thanks to a pilot program funded by the Mississippi Department of Health.

VWSD school nurses

• Cyndee Nash — district coordinator, has 21 years with the district. Nash usually covers Bovina, Redwood and Bowmar, but her in-school duties have been taken over by a substitute as she handles paperwork, parent phone calls and other duties related to the district’s response to the swine flu outbreak.

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• Dru Holdiness — South Park and Warrenton; 11 years with the district.

• Catherine Jobe — Beechwood and Warren Central High; eight years of service in Vicksburg.

• Victoria Thomas — Dana Road and Vicksburg Intermediate, plus Vicksburg High as needed; seven years in the district.

• Trina Lassiter — Sherman Avenue and Warren Central Intermediate, plus Grove Street School as needed; six years in the district.

• Sharon Caldwell — Warren Central and Vicksburg junior highs; one year in the district.

• Kiely McKellar — substitute for Nash at Bovina, Redwood and Bowmar.

The vaccines are expected in October, said Cyndee Nash, district nurse coordinator, and will be administered by the district’s school nurses.

“We are probably one of the first districts in the state to be selected to do this,” she said. “We were approached several days ago and just had to clear it with the administration. They were all for it.”

Health officials were not certain yet if one or two shots would be required to provide immunization from the swine flu virus. Nash said they will know that closer to the date the vaccinations become available.

Students will need parent permission to receive the vaccine. School nurses are also hoping for some parent volunteers to help with hand-holding.

As of Friday, about 95 cases of swine flu had been diagnosed in the Vicksburg Warren schools since the beginning of the year Aug. 4, Nash said. The figure represents about 1 percent of  Vicksburg’s public school students. The district’s Web site lists the number of students absent in any one day with the H1N1 virus. but it is not updated with season-to-date figures.

Public health officials have forecast that up to half the population will come down with swine flu before flu season winds down in March or later. With the early advent of flu in the schools, the nurses began the year at a busier-than-usual pace.

The Centers for Disease Control, a federal public health agency, recommends that schools employ a nurse for every 750 students, but the ratio is about twice as high in Vicksburg, with 9,000 public students served by six nurses, or one for every 1,500 students. The state ratio is one nurse to 1,092 students, and 12 of the state’s 152 districts reported last year not having a nurse on staff.

Students living within the district who do not attend public schools may contact the Warren County Health Department for the shots, Nash said.

Nurses split their time between two or more schools.

“We do the best we can with what we’ve got,” said Nash, who has been in the district for 21 years and at one time was the sole nurse for all the schools.

Besides being on the front lines for scrapes, bumps, tummy aches and Band-Aid treatments, more and more often school nurses must care for students with chronic medical problems such as diabetes, asthma, attention deficit disorders and other illnesses requiring medication and medical procedures.

“I got a phone call this morning about lice,” Nash said. “That’s another big thing that we deal with a lot, though usually more in the winter because of coats and hats. Lice can cycle around quite a bit.”

Nurses also have to be prepared — and prepare teachers and other staff — to treat life-threatening allergies. And then there is the occasional pencil lead stuck under a kid’s skin, and other maladies. “I’ve found roaches in kids’ ears, peas up their noses, stuff like that,” Nash said.

At Warrenton Elementary on Friday, Dru Holdiness was administering first-grade vision screenings. The tests are routine for fourth-graders as well. The little ones are promised a sticker or small prize when Holdiness comes later to visit their classroom.

After benchmark testing — standard Friday morning classroom fare for third-graders and up — ended around 10:30, Holdiness’ office began to fill up with students complaining of sore throats and headaches.

The nurses have been more vigilant so far because they’ve had so much fever and flu already, she said, but they manage to treat most of the kids and get them back to class, so they can keep on learning.

“Statistics show that if you have a nurse in the school, 85 percent of the children are treated and able to go back to class,” Nash said, while secretaries or other fill-in nurses often have to call parents to come and pick up the child.

On the other hand, school nurses hate to see a sick child, who belongs at home, sent to school. Victoria Thomas, nurse at the Dana Road-Vicksburg Intermediate megaschool, said nurses have taken sick kids into the office only to find the parents have given a bogus phone number and can’t be reached.

“The most difficult thing we face is getting the parents involved,” Thomas said. “We have certain students that have to have certain medications. Sometimes it’s hard to get parents to stay on top of that without our having to call them. Those types of things are the most hurtful.”

Besides the routine nursing duties, Thomas and other nurses also teach character education. Nursing in schools is not just about treating physical ailments or injuries, Thomas said, but about helping the whole child – mind, soul and body.

During the first weeks of school she’s focused on bullying — defining the term, raising awareness and teaching kids what to do to avoid being bullied and bullying others.

“Most of the time a nurse is a mom, in a sense,” said Thomas. “She’s there with love, compassion and the attention that all kids want.”

“I love the kids and I love the school setting,” Holdiness said. “I grew up in a family of educators”— her mother works in the central office and her father is a former assistant superintendent — “and I love being here. I don’t turn kids away; I don’t shut my door at lunchtime. Feeling like I’ve ever actually done enough is hard.”

Contact Pamela Hitchins at phitchins@vicksburgpost.com