Monday, August 27, 2007

Posted by: Sean Hubert, Project LOVE

Back-to-School….Back to the drawing board

In recent days I have seen some discussion on how to release the tension of back to school lines in public health clinics. Immunization coalitions create and execute plans for back to school outreach, but how effective are they? For some communities these outreach activities are very effective. But for some high VFC*-qualified communities, not as much.

Last year, Project LOVE partnered with several organizations to hold satellite clinics in areas where data has shown elevated school exclusion rates year after year. It also happened to coincide with high qualified free or reduced lunch programs which equate VFC-eligibility. It made sense to us to have these clinics in those identified areas for the family’s convenience and to hold them around and during exclusion day (for Ohio schools it’s two weeks after school starts). Information about these clinics were distributed to the parents through the school nurses on several occasions, including the letter stating your child will be excluded without the required immunizations. We were geared up and ready to take on the flow. But nothing happened. In all the clinics (8 areas in total) we had a handful of families show up.

Where did the rest go? You bet…our local health department. Apparently our families preferred to take the longer bus or car trip and spend the hours in wait rather than to go to the clinics set up in their neighborhoods. We know procrastination is habitual, but maybe so is going to the main health department. It doesn’t help that they are so darn friendly too (honestly!).
So the lesson learned was that we not hold convenient localized clinics but rather staff more personnel to help the main health department out. It’s not my first choice obviously, but it was our community’s choice. Throughout the summer using the media, we strongly encourage families to contact their medical provider early for an appointment, but with school starting next week (for us), that’s no longer an option. Most offices I have contacted are booked at least two weeks out.

I strongly support working closely with your school systems. They can help you identify many aspects as you plan back to school events such as school exclusion rates and assist you on getting the word out to the parents. If you are in a state where it is allowable to give immunizations at the school, holding clinics on site is a very effective option.

*VFC-Vaccine For Children federal program

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