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Hot line clears up confusion



Published: Fri, June 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



STAFF/WIRE REPORTS

"Doesn't hurt." With those words, Salem High School sophomore Andy Place summed up the sentiments of many who received vaccinations this morning against meningococcal bacteria as part of a mass inoculation program involving several area school districts.

The vaccination effort at the Salem cafeteria had been scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. today, but it started about 9:15 a.m. when people began showing up and health officials decided they were ready to begin the job.

By 10 a.m., about 100 pupils and parents were in line for the injections, administered by Columbiana County Health Department officials. More than a dozen health department employees were on hand, administering inoculations and handling paperwork.

County Health Commissioner Robert Morehead said he was pleased with the organization of the inoculation program and the way it was proceeding.

Noting how people began lining up early, Morehead said, "I can understand the parents' concern." Meningococcal disease "is very rare. But it's very nasty."

Schools Superintendent Dr. David Brobeck agreed. He had 25 staff members on hand, helping to identify students.

Reactions: Staff members also were inoculated. "Quick and painless," is how Spanish teacher Jennifer Waugh of Winona described her encounter with the needle.

Kimberly Yakovich, a sophomore, rubbed her arm and said she felt more secure after receiving the inoculation.

Among students, there has been a certain amount of nonchalant joking about contracting disease, but Kimberly said that's just a fa & ccedil;ade.

"Most of my friends were pretty scared" about it, she added.

Her father, John, said he's relieved about the vaccinations. "Preventive measures are always good," he said.

Andy Place's father, Dave, agreed. "I'm glad he got it done. You'd rather be safe than sorry. It's a good idea."

West Branch: About 200 pupils and parents lined up at West Branch High School before 10 a.m. today to receive the free vaccinations.

Lines moved fairly quickly. Diana Colaianni, nursing director of the Mahoning County Board of Health, said the procedure moving people through the various screening stations and the vaccination area was going smoothly with few problems.

Colaianni said health officials had a separate area set aside to talk with people who were not eligible to get the vaccinations.

Nurses from all over the state volunteered to administer the shots and answer questions.

Courtney McBride, a West Branch junior, said she thought the shots were a good idea, but she was a little nervous about the vaccination.

"I'm doing this, but I'd rather not," she said. "I don't like shots."

Security: Ohio Department of Health guidelines for today's vaccination of some 5,800 high school pupils and staff included a security plan.

The vaccinations against a meningococcal outbreak that killed two West Branch students over the Memorial Day weekend were being administered to those at six area high schools: West Branch, Marlington, Sebring, Salem, Alliance and Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas.

Jay Kerry, ODH public information officer, said ODH and CDC officials set guidelines for the vaccine; anyone not meeting those guidelines would be refused the free shots.

Calls: Law enforcement officers were standing by for the vaccination program, Kerry said, but an ODH hot line in place since Tuesday has cleared up much of the confusion.

"We have had more than 2,000 calls ... and many of the callers have asked who is eligible and what the procedure would be," Kerry said.

Most of the calls from the Northeast Ohio area are specific about the vaccine and the vaccination process, while general questions about the disease are coming from other areas of the state.

Victims: Kelly Coblentz, 15, died May 28, two days after the death of Jonathan Stauffer, also 15.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday that a third student, Christin Van Camp, 18, a Marlington High School senior, has the same type of bacteria that infected Jonathan and Kelly, though it is not certain they are from the same source.

VanCamp's condition was upgraded Thursday from serious to stable at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron. Hospital officials were moving her out of the intensive care unit for the first time since Saturday, when she arrived in a coma.

VanCamp became ill after attending calling hours for Jonathan.

State health officials insist that the only way to contract the bacteria is through saliva or mucus. But they also admit that they do not yet know -- and may never know -- exactly how the students were infected.

Kerry said there has been some confusion about the at-risk population as defined by ODH and CDC officials. Household members of the students who died are eligible for the free vaccination, but family members of other pupils, including school-age children, are not.

The exceptions are Sebring junior high pupils, because they attend classes in the high school building.

Availability: Kerry has said anyone not eligible for the free vaccine today can request it from their doctors, but ODH and CDC officials do not recommend that. The risk to such individuals is minimal, he said.

The Northeastern Ohio Meningitis Response Team says meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes meningitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord and the brain area; a blood infection known as meningococcemia; or both.

The response team said the vaccine being administered today is Menomune, made from a nonliving part of the germ that causes meningococcal disease.

The CDC says the vaccine is very safe and does not pose any risk to pregnant women. However, it is not recommended for children under 2 because of the lack of antibody response in the systems of very young children.

The vaccine takes about seven to 10 days to become effective and is good for about three to five years. It protects against four strains of Neisseria meningitidis, types A, C, Y and W135.

The Northeastern Ohio Meningitis Response Team is based at the Stark County Emergency Management Agency in Canton and consists of members of the Stark County Health Department, Columbiana County General Health District, Mahoning County District Board of Health, Alliance City Health Department and the Ohio Department of Health.

tullis@vindy.com




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