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Local kids get shot in the arm for influenza protection

WORTHINGTON -- It doesn't take long to administer a flu shot -- really, it's a vaccination against influenza -- but the few moments needed for the injection can save a world of hurt and hassle, for parents and children alike.

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Prairie Elementary school nurse Wendy Donkersloot gives an immunization to Bree Luinenburg. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- It doesn’t take long to administer a flu shot -- really, it’s a vaccination against influenza -- but the few moments needed for the injection can save a world of hurt and hassle, for parents and children alike.

“As a nurse, I regularly talk to my own three kids about the importance of shots and how they keep us healthy,” said Jessica Hohenstein, R.N., nurse manager at Avera Medical Group, Worthington.

“I tell them it’s better to get one little poke than to be sick for a week.”

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That’s the message Hohenstein and fellow nurses Wendy Donkersloot and Kylie Turner are trying to send in a cooperative effort to vaccinate more than 2,000 Worthington students over a two-day period from Oct. 27-28.

“We’re shooting for 75 percent of the total school enrollment, so we’re hoping to vaccinate over 2,000 students in all of the school locations,” said Turner, clinical supervisor at Sanford Worthington Clinic.

“That will help prevent the spread of illness because a lot of kids don’t otherwise make it into a clinic for flu shots so they go without -- and then the flu can spread like wildfire in classrooms.”

Donkersloot, the senior nurse at District 518’s Prairie Elementary School, is a firsthand witness to the positive effect of high vaccination rates.

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“We have a 99 percent immunization compliance rate throughout District 518 -- including at Prairie, where we have more than 1,200 students on site,” said Donkersloot.

“We crack down and hold families accountable for keeping kids’ immunizations up to date, and when students transfer in, we make sure they’re in compliance.”

Because over 1,200 students district-wide received the influenza vaccine in the 2015 flu shot campaign, Donkersloot verified that a healthier academic year was enjoyed by all.

“It was a very manageable year in the schools -- and a much milder year all the way through -- as far as influenza was concerned,” Donkersloot confirmed. “The flu itself is much less of a factor as a result of the vaccine.”

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A $2,500 grant from the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) assists these health care professionals in making it possible to offer flu shots to all Worthington students.

“We’ve been awarding this grant since 2009 to help cover the expense of vaccinations for uninsured or underinsured students so that every kid has a chance to get vaccinated,” said Jeff Rotert, WRHCF executive director.

“We want to help keep kids in school, and we’ve seen a reduced number of absences from influenza over the past few years; we’d like to believe this has helped.”

Turner, one of the grant writers for the effort, is grateful for the WRHCF’s support.

“The grant makes a huge difference in allowing us to vaccinate more kids, and we highly appreciate it,” she emphasized. “I also think it’s great that staff from Sanford and Avera work together on this to keep all the kids here healthy.

“That speaks volumes on what we’re collectively trying to do for the community and for everyone’s health.”

The nurses emphasize that it’s valuable for parents to take advantage of the in-school flu shot clinics, not only for the sake of convenience but also as an additional hedge against potential germ exposure.

“At the schools, there are likely fewer sick people around, but when you go to a clinic to get a shot, there are obviously sick people present,” said Turner. “Doing this at school helps limit exposure.”

An important change in 2016 is one dictated not by local professionals but by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The nasal spray mist, known as FluMist, will not be available this year due to recent studies that have shown it to be largely ineffective.

“It’s the shot or nothing,” confirmed Donkersloot. “And that’s true not only at the schools, but at local clinics and drugstores.”

Hohenstein feels the pain of other parents who have opted in past years for their kids to have the nasal spray; she did the same for her children, but intends to have them follow through with the injection nevertheless.

“It goes pretty smooth, and when kids are in line for the shots at school, it can help them to see how tough the other kids are when it’s their turn,” Hohenstein pointed out.

“If their friend is in front of them and gets the shot, it’s motivating for them to get through it, too.”

Donkersloot reminds parents that the preventive vaccination can keep kids from being absent for days, or even weeks, of school, not to mention the other fun social or extracurricular activities they’d have to miss if they became ill.

“It’s a brief moment in time that serves to keep them and those around them healthy throughout the year,” said Donkersloot. “Ultimately, we want to keep kids IN school and busy learning.”

Rotert is glad the WRHCF can support that goal.

“This is all about maintaining a healthier community,” he affirmed.

Information and permission slips for the Oct. 27-28 flu clinics will be sent home with Prairie Elementary students soon in their “Tuesday folders;” forms and information for older students will be mailed to their homes.

Parents should complete, sign and return the forms to their children’s schools on or before the Oct. 12 deadline.  Flu shots will then be administered to students at Prairie Elementary, Worthington Middle School and Worthington High School on Oct. 27; students at the Alternative Learning Center, St. Mary’s School and Worthington Christian School will be vaccinated on Oct. 28.

For more information, contact a school nurse at any of the District 518 schools.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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