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— With funding provided by the tobacco tax passed during the recent legislative session and federal monies, the Arkansas Department of Health, the Arkansas Department of Education and local school districts statewide will offer the seasonal flu shot to all school children in grades K-12 beginning in mid-October.

"It has been shown that vaccinating our children is the best way to protect other age groups from the flu as well, especially the elderly population, which is more vulnerable to the most severe effects of the flu," Dr. Paul Halverson, Health Department director and state health officer, said in a news release. "However, until now it hasn't been possible to offer flu vaccine to all children in their schools, K-12.

This is the beginning of a very significant effort in public health protection."

Seasonal flu shots are not required for children to attend school, but they are highly recommended. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatricians recommend that all children age 6 months and older receive a seasonal flu shot every year.

Seasonal flu causes children to miss school and their parents to miss work. The seasonal flu shot will not protect against the novel H1N1 influenza A (swine flu) virus. There is a separate vaccination that is currently being produced to combat H1N1 influenza A.

"Protecting Arkansas children from the flu is an important part of our continuing success in improving economic conditions in our state, both short-term and long-term," Gov. Mike Beebe said in the release. "The more people we can vaccinate in Arkansas, the harder it will be for the virus to spread through our state."

After school begins, children will be bringing home a consent form with the date that the shots will be given and a fact sheet about the seasonal flu shot. If parents want their children to receive the free shot, they must sign and return the form. Children will not be able to receive the shot without signed parental permission.

Community, Pages 7 on 08/12/2009

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