Another piece of the citys efforts to combat the H1N1 flu virus fell into place last week as the Alexandria Health Department reached agreements with five private schools to provide vaccinations for students.
Along with the already-standing accord with Alexandria City Public Schools, the recent Memorandums of Agreement with the citys Catholic Diocese schools and the Alexandria Country Day School ensure immunization for even more young Alexandrians, one of the demographics most affected by the virus.
We have been in contact with private schools for a couple of weeks now, it just took time for the private schools to decide how they wanted to handle this, said Dr. Lisa Kaplowitz, director of the Alexandria Health Department. Its been a back-and-forth discussion.
The Catholic schools to receive the vaccine along with ACDS and the public schools are Bishop Ireton High School, Blessed Sacrament Grade School, St. Marys Catholic School and St. Ritas Catholic School.
We have approached the other private schools and theyre either covering their students or said that they didnt need our assistance, Kaplowitz said. Weve asked all of the private schools but these are the ones that are signing a Memorandum of Agreement with us.
Also last week, the health department announced it would hold its first vaccination clinic this Saturday at the George Washington middle school campus on Mt. Vernon Avenue. Kaplowitz said about 1,500 doses would be available free of charge for those with high risk of complications, including children in pre-school, parents of very young children and pregnant women.
Before the announcements, some parents had become concerned that certain portions of the youth population would be left out.
I wasnt really seeking out the information, said Sandy Retterman, a physcian and a parent. She said a friend who was looking for information for private school students had trouble getting any last week.
After hearing what her friend had found through the city, Retterman said she was most worried about options available to Alexandria youth that went to private school or studied outside the city.
News of the clinics expected to follow the one this Saturday at G.W. appeared to relieve the mother of one student at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School and two at the Potomac School in McLean.
ACDS, which reached an agreement with the health department last Tuesday, has had yet to see more than a few students at a time miss school due to the disease.
I think our parents are relieved with the agreement, said Donna Molinari, the schools communications director. We may have had a handful of random cases but nothing to the extent of what I know other schools are facing.
Despite one notable exception in the citys public schools, where vaccinations began last Friday for the youngest of its 11,000-plus students, Superintendent Morton Sherman reported that Alexandria schools are faring better than others in the region.
Compared to several other school divisions, we are in relatively good shape, Sherman told the School Board last week. There are some across this region that are seeing far more children and staff who are ill than we are seeing.
The one exception here has been Patrick Henry Elementary School, where 16 percent of students were absent on October 21, Sherman said, but that had dropped notably by the next day.
Once expected to be available by mid-October, production and distribution of the H1N1 vaccine have been much slower than officials had hoped, according to Kaplowitz.
We knew that wed start with the youngest grade and move to higher grades as the vaccine became available. We just thought that wed be able to move much more quickly, Kaplowitz said.