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Department recognized for vaccine program

By Candace Nelson

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department has received an award for implementing a vaccination program in Kanawha County Schools.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials awarded the health department a Model Practice Award for its School Located Vaccination program.

"We're really honored to receive this award. It highlights what we're doing in Kanawha County as a model practice for almost 3,000 other local health departments across the nation to follow and replicate," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, the health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

The School Located Vaccination program began in response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak. The program offers students at more than 80 schools in Kanawha County the seasonal influenza vaccine free of charge. The health department worked with local schools and developed packets containing vaccination information statements, insurance information, consent forms, medical screening information and a letter. Parents can voluntarily submit insurance information to be billed, but no child would be denied. Approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of the 30,000 children opted in the program.

"Much to our surprise, more than 90 percent of the parents voluntarily provided insurance information to allow us to bill their provider. Because of that, this program completely self-sustaining, which very few programs in the country have been able to do in absence of state or local grants," Gupta said.

According to NACCHO, a public health program must demonstrate exemplary and replicable qualities in response to a local public health need, reflect a strong local health department role through collaboration and innovation, and demonstrate its value through evaluation to be selected as a model practice.

The health department chose to target children with the influenza vaccinations because children often spread the illness.

"Typically younger children have a lot of hand to mouth activity and intermingle in schools, which makes it easily transmissible. They take it to home, then parents and grandparents get infected. People at higher risk are at extreme ages or who already have illness. Ninety percent of mortality occurs in senior citizens, and a lot of that illness is spread by children. If we get kids covered, it reduces the incidence of disease in the community."

In the case that another incident similar to the H1N1 epidemic breaks out, the health department already has the infrastructure in place to handle an outbreak. Gupta also said the schools have seen a reduced amount of absenteeism in schools over the last few years from influenza-like illness. He attributes that in part to the vaccinations.

"It's advantageous because it helps the parents by not having to pull their children out of school for an appointment, they don't have to take a day off of work, they don't have to wait in a room with other sick patients, and there's been a lot of community support," Gupta said.

Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at


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