OAKLAND -- The largest ever seasonal flu vaccine program for Oakland youngsters will roll out Oct. 1, with the Alameda County health department targeting 60,000 elementary school students with free vaccines at 130 schools.

And one of the better parts of the Shoo the Flu program, besides keeping kids and by extension older folks healthy, is that most kids won't get a shot.

"Ninety percent of the vaccines will be the nasal spray," said Dr. Erica Pan, director of communicable disease control and prevention in the Alameda County Public Health Department. "It's the preferred method for kids ages 2-8 because more and more data show it is more effective than needles."

She said the county health department is collaborating with the California Department of Public Health and Oakland schools to offer the free vaccines in schools. All parents have to do is fill out a consent form.

Pan said the county health department has offered free flu vaccines to Oakland youngsters before but never on this scale. Flu clinics will be set up in every Oakland Unified School District elementary school, most private schools and all the elementary schools of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland.

Pan said the health department is targeting pre-kindergarten through fifth-graders because they are considered "super spreaders" of flu. Owing to their underdeveloped hygiene practices, kids often spread it to older folks who are more vulnerable and kids' immune systems respond very well to the vaccine.


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"The recent data show that if you vaccinate a large portion of children in a community, you are protecting the rest of the population because they are not spreading it to grandparents or caregivers or the elderly," Pan said.

Getting the flu is no fun. Symptoms can include fever and chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough and headache. It is spread by people coughing, sneezing and just being in close contact with others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said the health department would like to turn this large-scale vaccination program into a model and expand it to other parts of the county. The department is focusing on Oakland right now, Pan said, because it already has a good working relationship with the public schools and Oakland is a city with a large number of kids who don't have easy access to health care.

Contact reporter Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him on Twitter.com/douglasoakley.