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Vaccine for schools delayed Mass swine flu shots pushed back to late November in Niagara

Niagara County won't be able to execute its plan for mass flu immunizations of schoolchildren until late November -- or perhaps later -- Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said Monday night.

In the meantime, the county Health Department is emphasizing that everyone should get a flu shot for the regular seasonal flu and practice good hygiene such as washing hands frequently and coughing into their sleeves.

"Don't send your child to school if he's sick. Don't go to work if you're sick yourself," Stapleton advised an audience of about 70 people at Niagara County Community College.

Elaine C. Roman, the department's public information and preparedness officer, urged parents, "Don't give [sick kids] Motrin and send them to school. The Motrin will last six hours, and they'll be miserable. They'll infect everyone around them, including the teachers."

The federal government has ordered 195 million doses of vaccine for swine flu.

Symptoms are almost identical to the regular flu, and most people will recover in a week. Some may encounter nausea and diarrhea in addition to a runny nose, dry cough, fever and body aches.

Stapleton said the vaccine won't be available right away in sufficient quantities to carry out vaccinations of 70,000 people, one-third of the county's population, who are rated in high-risk groups: children and young adults, pregnant women, health care workers, emergency responders and teachers, and others who work with children.

The county expects to receive only 1,000 doses in its first shipment in mid-October, Stapleton said.

Eventually, the county plans to have mass flu shot clinics in the county's schools for children and their families. "This is a marathon, not a sprint," Stapleton said.

Questions at the public comment period emphasized the safety of the vaccine. A panel of doctors tried to vouch for it but acknowledged that they did not yet know exactly what would be in it.

Dr. Steven V. Grabiec, an immunologist, said the new vaccine is produced in the same way as the current vaccine for seasonal flu. However, the federal government is testing it for only six to eight weeks, he said.

Dr. Clay Booth, an audience speaker, said he knows a doctor who was "first in line" to get the swine flu shot in the 1970s contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome and couldn't work for seven years.

"We don't yet know what the dangers are," said Booth, who is semiretired and still sees patients at a clinic on Ninth Street in Niagara Falls. "I don't want, in preventing something, to see something worse happen."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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