FWCS provides vaccines to students
21 Aug 2022 — Journal Gazette
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Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette

Northwood Middle School families had a choice this year as they toured the registration tables set up in the gym. Between booths for schedule change requests and athletics, they could make sure their children got the required vaccinations for school.

"We have grabbed so many people that it's unbelievable," longtime school nurse Marilyn Mueller said of the pop-up clinic offered in partnership with the nonprofit agency Super Shot.

Fort Wayne Community Schools families who missed vaccination opportunities at registration don't need to look outside the district to cross those requirements off their to-do lists. The nearly 30,000-student school system is in its fourth year of offering an on-site immunization clinic at the downtown Wendy Y. Robinson Family and Community Engagement Center. Appointments are available year-round on weekdays during school hours except on major holidays. Any FWCS student can be helped, regardless of insurance status.

FWCS is the only Indiana district to offer such a clinic, said officials, who recently welcomed a visit from the Indiana Department of Health. When asked for a comment about its late July visit, the agency sent a statement.

"We are always interested in supporting school districts that have programs in place to support students," the health department said. "FWCS has a robust back-to-school program where immunizations are made a priority by nursing staff and school leaders."

But FWCS shares the credit with collaborators Super Shot, which provides the vaccines, and Parkview Community Nursing, whose nurses run the clinic and administer the shots. The St. Joe Community Health Foundation and the Tippman Foundation helped FWCS obtain immunization transport equipment and specialized refrigeration for vaccine storage, respectively, said Mary Hess, the school system's director of health and wellness.

"It really is a partnership that makes it work," she said.

Connie Heflin, executive director of Super Shot, agreed. It's about "sharing our resources," she said, "and working smart."

Keeping kids in school

Different immunizations are required at the kindergarten, sixth- and 12th-grade levels. It's common for FWCS students in those grades - which totaled 6,220 students last year - to start the academic year without the needed shots.

"About half of our kids come to school behind in their immunizations every year," Hess said, adding students from other states or countries can be further behind.

Mueller, the Northwood school nurse, said a family newly arrived from Africa was among those waiting for shots during registration.

"It will take them maybe a year to catch them up," Mueller said, "but we're going to do it."

Students can be excluded from school if they lack vaccinations, although there are exemptions for medical issues and religious objections.

FWCS' vaccination program was limited before the vaccination clinic opened, Hess said. Nurses would send letters home with deadlines to get students immunized, sometimes leading to students missing a week or two of school as they waited for their necessary shots.

"We hated seeing kids lose school time," Hess said.

With the clinic, she said, FWCS wanted to make it as easy as possible for parents to get children vaccinated without disrupting students' education. The district also conducts in-school immunization clinics when possible. Shots are administered with parents' written consent.

Advocating for students

Shannon Hunter hadn't planned on getting her daughter vaccinated during Northwood's registration, but she said she couldn't resist the convenience. She sat next to the girl in the school gym, waiting to be called to the locker room for the shots.

"We'll get everybody that we can," Mueller said of the pop-up clinic, which was an extension of FWCS' partnership with Super Shot.

Natalie McLaughlin, who leads Parkview Community Nursing's efforts with FWCS, said the beginning of the academic year is especially busy for vaccine providers because families are trying to comply with rules. The downtown clinic might not always have immediate openings, she said, but it will notify school nurses of students' vaccination appointments so the children can stay in school in the interim.

"There's never a goal for excluding students," McLaughlin said.

Heflin, the Super Shot executive, said it makes sense for schools to offer the required and recommended immunizations because school nurses are at the forefront of public health for children in the community. She commended FWCS for its programs.

"They really advocate for their students and work to provide wraparound services for their students," she said.

Protecting against vaccine-preventable diseases is important because diseases once thought to be "completely behind us," such as polio, are returning, Heflin said. Vaccinating a child not only protects the child but also the child's classmates and entire school community.

Or, she summarized, it's "something you do for somebody else."

High school senior Blaize Howard gets vaccinated at Portage Middle School during registration at a pop-up clinic.

Shelby Tackett | For The Journal Gazette

Student Bria Howard gets vaccinated at Portage Middle School during a pop-up clinic held during registration in partnership with Super Shot.

Shelby Tackett | For The Journal Gazette

A Fort Wayne Community Schools student gets vaccinated at Portage Middle School during a pop-up clinic held during registration in partnership with Super Shot.

Shelby Tackett | For The Journal Gazette


Mary Hess


This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"FWCS provides vaccines to students" Journal Gazette 21 Aug 2022: C1