‘Teach Flu A Lesson’ Strives to Help Kids Stay Healthy This Season

Smiling boy holding an apple next to school lockers.

No one wants to be sick, especially during the holidays, which is why it is especially important school-aged children get the annual flu vaccine this fall.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu is the leading cause of illness, and last year’s flu season was the deadliest in more than a decade. Young children are especially at risk. The flu spreads quickly in tight quarters such as elementary school classrooms, and children’s developing immune systems may be more susceptible to colds and flu. Children who live in low-income communities may be at even greater risk because their access to health care and preventive vaccines is often limited.

Thanks to the voluntary Teach Flu a Lesson program, thousands of underserved students throughout Southern California can receive increased protection against the influenza virus this season at no charge. The innovative partnership among Kaiser Permanente, the California Department of Public Health, 10 school districts, and 11 nursing schools is making more than 8,000 flu vaccines available at school-based vaccination clinics.

By providing the vaccine to communities with below-average vaccination rates, Teach Flu a Lesson helps ensure the most vulnerable communities can reduce their risk for infection and enjoy better health this winter.

“This program is so important — it is not only about protecting the individual child, but also protecting the school from a larger outbreak, and protecting the student’s family, including younger siblings,” said Margaret Khoury, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist and regional lead of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Flu Vaccination Program.

“Reaching out to the community and making protection available to children every flu season is the way to go,” Dr Khoury said. “Removing obstacles to getting the flu shot is the key to our success and what makes this program a model.”

Bradley Jacoby, DO and Riverside Community College nursing students.

Bradley Jacoby, DO, Southern California Permanente Medical Group (bear costume), and Riverside Community College nursing students partner for the Teach Flu a Lesson program.

This year, Teach Flu a Lesson is expected to be especially successful because of the return of FluMist, the nasal spray vaccine option. Working with the California Department of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente is making both FluMist and the standard flu shot available to young students with their parent’s or guardian’s permission. Kaiser Permanente also helped to secure assistance from local nursing schools, whose nursing students are administering the vaccines.

“The FluMist is great,” said Kevin Moore, practice specialist at Kaiser Permanente, who helps lead the Teach Flu a Lesson program with Lisa Buffong, associate medical group administrator. “It is quick to administer and less traumatic for students compared to a shot, and we know it is just as effective.”

This year, 112 Southern California schools are hosting the vaccination clinics. Participating school districts include:

  • Antelope Valley: Lancaster
  • Los Angeles County: Baldwin Park and El Rancho
  • Orange County: Anaheim, Buena Park, Santa Ana, and Savana
  • Riverside County: Riverside
  • San Bernardino County: Yucaipa
  • South Bay: Torrance

“Every year, many students miss important instructional time in the classroom because they are home sick with the flu,” said Christopher Downing, superintendent, Anaheim Elementary School District. “The value of the Teach Flu a Lesson is that it helps lower this public health barrier and ensures access to a flu shot for all of our students.”

Now in its sixth year, Teach Flu a Lesson began at schools in early October and will continue through mid-December.

“As we head into the holiday season, the key to staying healthy for children is getting the vaccine, combined with handwashing, and of course healthy eating and sleep,” said Dr. Khoury. “That’s the recipe for wellness.”

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s work in the community, please visit http://community.kp.org.