BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It has become a daily ritual for students at Nichols Elementary School in Biloxi. They wash up before they line up for lunch.
"We encourage good hand washing techniques, cover their cough, stay home when they're sick," said Jalena Taylor, the Biloxi School District nurse.
Soon, the children can take another precaution to protect themselves from the H1N1 virus. The Biloxi School District will offer the Swine Flu vaccine to its students and staff.
"We're actually going to be sending home informational tool kits from the Mississippi Department of Health. When those become available, the parents will be given the option of signing a consent form and send that consent form back to school," said Taylor.
But with almost 5,000 students and more than 700 teachers and staff members in the Biloxi School District, giving out the shots can be overwhelming for the school nurses. That's when Biloxi Regional Medical Center comes into play.
Biloxi Regional has agreed to adopt the Biloxi School District. The hospital nurses will help the eleven school nurses administer the injectable form of the vaccine.
"We're trying to have four teams right now where we can go into four schools," said Debbie Taylor, the Director of Infection Control for Biloxi Regional. "In a span of two days, we plan to have eight schools vaccinated and then we'll probably do Biloxi High in one day because it has more students."
"We're excited about doing this community service for Biloxi," Taylor added. "A lot of people that work here at Biloxi Regional, their children attend Biloxi schools. So we just wanted to go out into the community and make sure that these children are vaccinated so they don't get sick."
The state Health Department is working with other hospitals and doctor's offices to partner them with school districts in their communities.
"We realize as a health department, we can't possibly go and vaccinate roughly 80,000 students in the six counties," said Gail Ainsworth, the Epidemiology Nurse for the Mississippi Health Department. "And the ones that we can't make arrangements for, the Health Department will go on its own and vaccinate in the schools. There are physicians that are going to adopt private schools as well. We didn't leave them out."
Health officials say protecting children is a priority and it will take teamwork to carry out such a large-scale vaccination program.
There is no cost for the Swine Flu shots and again, they are voluntary. Parents must give written permission before their child can get the shots.