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story.lead_photo.caption Representatives from area schools, county government, the Fulton Medical Center, Callaway County Health Department and the Callaway County Ambulance District gathered Tuesday to discuss the logistics of offering flu shot clinics to local children. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

Thanks to a team-up with the Callaway County Health Department and other local entities, area schools will be able to provide free flu shots to students this fall.

North Callaway R-1, Fulton Public Schools, South Callaway R-2 and St. Peter Catholic School all signaled interest in participating in the new program during a meeting with county officials Tuesday. New Bloomfield R-3 superintendent Sarah Wisdom was unable to attend Tuesday but said Wednesday she's sure her district will participate as well.

"We are always looking for ways to keep our students healthy and help our families, so I think it is a great opportunity," she said.

The districts haven't yet set dates for their flu shot clinics, but parents in each school should soon receive paperwork to fill out if they wish their child to receive the vaccination.

Planning the clinics has turned out to be a logistical challenge, Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said.

"One of the big issues is just getting hold of the vaccine," he said.

Due to high demand, the Fulton Medical Center is currently paying double the usual price — $25 per shot — to acquire the vaccine, FMC public relations/marketing director Andrea Bedrosian said.

The CCHD is getting around the issue by acquiring the shots for these clinics through two separate sources.

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The first, Vaccines for Children, is a federally funded program that provides shots for uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid-qualified children younger than 19. The other is the company VaxCare, which can charge insured children's insurance for the vaccines they receive. All children will receive the same flu shots, and in both cases, the parents shouldn't be charged directly for the vaccination, CCHD director Sharon Lynch explained.

School nurses, CCHD nurses and qualified individuals from the Fulton Medical Center and Callaway County Ambulance District will help administer the vaccines.

Lynch said the CCHD's goal is to complete the vaccination clinics by December, adding they can acquire and administer the vaccines much sooner than that depending on how fast the districts can send out and collect the required paperwork.

"By the end of October or the first part of November, we should be giving shots," Jungermann affirmed. "I think it's a great opportunity to work together."

Lynch said the health department also hopes to set up vaccine clinics for adults in the near future. CARES Act funding from the county could help pay for those clinics.

"This is a practice run for COVID-19 shots," Lynch said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's particularly important that as many people as possible get vaccinated for the flu this year.

"While it's not possible to say with certainty what will happen in the fall and winter, CDC believes it's likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading," a CDC FAQ document states. "In this context, getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever."

The CDC noted getting a flu vaccine won't protect people against COVID-19, but it will reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death. Flu and COVID-19 can result in serious illness, including illness resulting in hospitalization or death, with COVID-19 apparently being the more deadly and rapid-spreading of the two. About 22,000 Americans died of the flu during the 2019-20 season, according to the CDC, while COVID-19 has caused or contributed to the deaths of more than 211,000 Americans since February.

The flu vaccine also decreases the odds of getting both diseases at once — which, according to the CDC, is entirely possible: "Yes. It is possible have flu, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and COVID-19 at the same time."

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