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Pioneer Editorial: Flu clinics in schools will protect more

Nothing can be more tragic than the death of a child -- especially knowing that it could have been prevented. Many Minnesota parents are filled with angst in recent days as we learn that five people -- all but one a child -- died in recent weeks ...

Nothing can be more tragic than the death of a child -- especially knowing that it could have been prevented.

Many Minnesota parents are filled with angst in recent days as we learn that five people -- all but one a child -- died in recent weeks from the current flu strain, Type A, which is covered by the vaccine now being used in immunization clinics across the state this winter. Three of the four children who died had not been vaccinated; the fourth was vaccinated but was labeled as a "medically fragile child."

While the deaths have prompted a resurgence of flu clinics -- an additional 5,000 doses of vaccine are to arrive today in Minnesota to bolster areas where supplies may be dwindling due to increased demand -- officials stress that the deaths are not out of line with past trends. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that fewer than 20 children have died during the current flu season, including the four from Minnesota. On average, about 40 children are among the estimated 36,000 deaths each year from flu, most involving the elderly or adults with chronic health problems.

Still, we'd like to do whatever we can to prevent the unnecessary death of a child.

Schools are a daily gathering place for thousands and thousands of children, and this flu season have led the way in flu outbreaks, outpacing nursing homes. Perhaps it's time for schools to take a greater role in preventing flu by holding flu clinics in the schools.

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Offering flu shots, or the newer nasal spray vaccine, seems a logic way to provide the best protection to the most children. Not unlike health concerns of past generations, schools used to be the primary location for polio vaccinations and other communicable diseases vaccinations.

Such an effort, however, can't be borne by the school nurse. Cooperation is needed with local providers, and especially the County Public Health Nursing Service. But the presence of voluntary flu clinics in the schools would not only reach the most children, but also allow vaccinated children to protect their families in slowing the spread of flu.

Some may argue the flu shots should be mandatory, and that may be a direction in which we head, but we believe making the vaccinations available in the schools -- voluntarily -- will greatly increase the number of children who receive the vaccines and, ultimately, protect more children from the possibility albeit rare of a tragic death from flu.

The last thing parents should say in retrospect, if their child dies from the flu, is that they could have had their child vaccinated but didn't.

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