CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Health officials say fewer Kanawha County students are staying home from school because of a flu vaccination program offered by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
In the flu season during the 2010-11 school year, Kanawha County's public and private schools had about half as many absences they typically expect to see, said Health Department Executive Director Dr. Rahul Gupta. Elementary schools had 59 percent fewer absences than they typically expect, he said.
Gupta said the higher-than-expected attendance rate is a result of more students being vaccinated in the Health Department's in-school vaccination clinics.
"Among the kids who got more shots, there was a better rate," Gupta said. "Obviously it wasn't a fluke thing."
This is the fourth year health officials have gone into public and private schools to offer vaccines to Kanawha County's approximately 30,000 students.
Brenda Isaac, lead school nurse for Kanawha County Schools, said the elementary schools in particular have seen a decrease in absenteeism during flu season.
"Now you can't say for sure what's causing it," Isaac said. "We have definitely, over probably the past three to four years, seen decreased rates in diagnosed cases of the flu."
More than just offering the vaccinations, the program teaches school staff about the importance of the immunizations, she said.
"This program is as much about education as it is about the immunizations," she said.
A letter about the importance of the flu vaccines goes home with students to their parents, Isaac said. Teachers work with school nurses to ensure the permission slip is signed, she said.
"In the process, you're bringing it to the staff's attention too and educating them," Isaac said.
Some parents choose to take their children to their family physician instead of having them vaccinated at school, she said.