Eight-year-old Jessica Roberts half-smiled, half-winced as nurse Trish Bell plunged a needle filled with H1N1 vaccine into her arm. After a quick "ow-ow-ow-ow" muttered under her breath, the tears flowed.
"It's good, because if you don't get the shot you might get really sick," Jessica said afterward, wiping her tears and licking a candy cane. "But it really hurt."
Jessica, a third-grader at Peterson Elementary School, was one of about 750 Wichita students vaccinated against the H1N1 virus Friday in the first round of school clinics.
Students at four elementaries — Peterson, Benton, McCollom and Kensler — received either the nasal mist or injectable vaccine as part of the district's effort to curb the spread of the flu virus, which has sickened millions of American children.
"It has been hectic, but overall I think it's been a huge success," said Kathy Hubka, health services coordinator for the district.
"It's kind of exciting to think that hopefully we're going to help stop a public health emergency."
Officials selected the west-side elementaries to launch the clinics because the number of students at those schools closely matched the number of doses available, Hubka said.
"It's not that these schools had more illness or anything like that," she said. "They're just close together, and that... is a lot easier as far as transporting the vaccine."
At least a dozen more Wichita schools are expected to hold clinics in the coming weeks, before students leave for Thanksgiving break.
State health officials said Friday that measures of influenza such as doctor's visits and school absences were down in Kansas for a second week, but still were up significantly from what would be expected this time of year — meaning the H1N1 virus continues to be a problem.
Influenza pandemics tend to appear in waves, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said, so increases in coming weeks are possible.
Seasonal influenza typically peaks in February in Kansas.
At Peterson on Friday, students who had turned in parental permission forms filed into the latchkey room by grade level, kindergartners first. Five volunteer nurses were set up at tables to administer the vaccines.
Most children received the nasal mist version. Those with health conditions such as asthma or diabetes required an injection.
"I'm really glad they're having this because most doctors don't have the vaccine yet," said Amy Pape, who attended the Peterson clinic so she could be there when her two children got shots. Both have asthma.
While students waited for their vaccine, they watched an episode of "Sid the Science Kid" titled, "Getting a Shot: You Can Do It!" At McCollom, students receiving the vaccine got a treat bag with Life Savers, Smarties and erasers — for "helping erase the spread of the virus."
The H1N1 vaccine is not mandatory, said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman. The district is offering it at schools to make the vaccine more convenient for young children, a priority group.
Swine flu has sickened about 22 million Americans since April and killed about 540 children. And vaccines continue to be in short supply.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows nearly 1 in 6 parents have gotten at least some of their children vaccinated against H1N1, or swine flu, since inoculations began last month. Another 14 percent of parents said they sought vaccine but couldn't find any.
Only about 30 percent of children routinely get flu vaccinations during a normal winter. Hubka said the number getting vaccinated at school clinics so far — between 30 and 50 percent — suggests that interest remains high in Wichita.
"I feel like this is a wonderful opportunity for the (school) nurses and the school district to really help out the community," Hubka said.
Each school will have a clinic, she said. Vaccine supply will dictate the schedule. Schools will send home letters and consent forms and will remind families with phone messages using the district's ParentLink system.
Schools likely will give only one H1N1 vaccination per student, but national guidelines state children under 10 should have a follow-up vaccination a month later. Hubka said families will be encouraged to take their children to a public clinic or family doctor to get the second vaccination.
At Peterson Elementary on Friday, Stacey Loehner, a mom and volunteer, clipped and sorted stickers that said, "I visited my school nurse today." She said she was glad her son's school was among the first to get the H1N1 vaccine.
"I called our pediatrician and we couldn't get it there," said Loehner, who also has children at Wilbur Middle School and Northwest High School. "I thought we'd better take advantage of this since it's right here."