Long awaited school H1N1 flu vaccination clinics will begin at most Alabama public schools the week after Thanksgiving break.

Schools in a few areas will get a head start with clinics beginning Monday.

It was unclear Wednesday when northwest Alabama schools are scheduled to receive the vaccines, but school officials said they are coming soon.

As schools and parents make plans to get children immunized, schools will start sending out information packets and permission forms this week.

Dr. Don Williamson, state health officer, said it is important to take the usually mild H1N1, or swine flu, and its complications seriously.

"Influenza is never an innocuous disease, whether young or old," he said. "It is far safer to get the vaccine."

The school clinics are for children in kindergarten through age 9 whose parents or guardians sign permission forms allowing vaccination.

Williamson said the state will concentrate on that group because children require two doses of vaccine for full protection. The clinics will dispense free nasal spray vaccine - not shots - using vaccine made with diluted live virus and free of controversial preservatives.

Vaccination for older children and other Alabamians will likely not come before January, state health officials said.

Parents of children in the target age group should expect the detailed information packets on the vaccine and local schedules to come from their child's school. Information will be in English and Spanish.

Williamson said "the most defining moment in the outbreak" that has claimed 32 lives in Alabama since July will come when children return to school after Christmas break. The victims include one death in Colbert County.

"There is no evidence that it will break any time soon," Williamson said of the virus that is still causing above-average doctor and emergency room visits and school absences.

State education Superintendent Ed Morton said nasal spray vaccine may seem less threatening than a shot to very young children getting vaccinated during the school day without a parent present. Some schools may offer after-school or weekend vaccine clinics to allow more parents to be present at the clinic.

"When you have a child who is 5 years old with no parent in sight, even if you have the most loving nurse in the world with a needle in her hand, you're likely to have higher noncompliance," Morton said.

To young children, the nasal vaccine is more like nose drops, he said.

For other Alabamians wondering when vaccine may be available for all, Williamson said the state does not expect wide availability for the general public before the end of December or January.

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