Several Minnesota communities are planning large public vaccination clinics this month, in an effort to help parents and schoolchildren prepare for new immunization requirements that will take effect Sept. 1.
Thanks to vaccines and $15,000 in funding furnished by the Minnesota Department of Health, local public health departments are offering the shots free of charge at locations that include Dakota County, Anoka County and Madison, Minn.
The public clinics will also double as emergency-preparedness drills should Minnesota face the need for mass vaccinations in the future. In 2009, for example, the H1N1 flu outbreak caught many communities unprepared.
"In the event that you would have to vaccinate a really large volume of people in a really short amount of time, how would you make that happen?" said Elizabeth Auch, administrator for Countryside Public Health Department in west-central Minnesota.
Countryside, a five-county local public health agency, will bus students up to 25 miles in each direction from 13 school districts to get vaccines at Lac qui Parle Valley High School in Madison on Aug. 5.
The agency, which covers Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties, has collaborated with local law enforcement agencies, clinicians, emergency managers and staff from all school districts.
When planning began in April, Auch's team estimated that 500 students in grades 7 through 12 would be required to receive some type of immunization before the school year. The meningococcal vaccine, which protects against most types of meningitis, is now required for kids in seventh grade and up, as well as the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine (Tdap), instead of just a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster.
In addition to the new vaccines required for adolescents, vaccines for Hepatitis A and B are now required for children in child care and early education programs. Starting Sep. 1, children participating in early childhood programs will need to show their immunization record or provide a legal exemption for required vaccines.
Many Minnesota schoolchildren already receive the required shots, because the new list matches recommendations of national health authorities and many of the state's clinics already offer them.
But many uninsured or underinsured families may have a hard time getting up to date, public health officials said. Staff members at local walk-in clinics say low-income or uninsured families often get their shots at the last minute, sometimes causing kids to leave class and get vaccinated once school has already started.
"This is a great opportunity to get your kids ready without even having to worry about it," Auch said.
This year's mass-distribution clinics began in rural areas such as Renville County, but a few counties in the metro area are offering them as well.
Dakota County, for example, is planning a back-to-school vaccination clinic on Aug. 27 at the Western Service Center in Apple Valley, offering free Tdap, meningococcal and HPV vaccinations for students in grades 7 through 12. Anoka County health officials are working with the Centennial and Anoka-Hennepin school districts to offer school-based immunization clinics as well.
Renville County decided to offer mass shot clinics throughout the year in anticipation of the new vaccine regulations. The county vaccinated about 1,500 students in October, January and May. The clinics took place during the school day, usually in gymnasiums, and the largest clinic served 650 students, said Jill Bruns, director of public health services in Renville County.
Staff members now are much more comfortable in their roles in emergency preparedness, Bruns said, and they learned the importance of structured planning to add calmness and reduce errors.
Bruns praised the idea of school-located vaccination clinics, noting that the students cooperated very well.
"They behaved better without their mamas there," Bruns said. "There's a little bit of added peer pressure, and it goes very well."