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COLUMBIA - Health officials confirmed Monday flu vaccines will not be available at Columbia public schools this fall. The past two years, Columbia has received grant money to help cover the cost of the shots in school. The shots were for several strains, including the H1N1 virus.

Last year, Columbia public schools gave shots to nearly 5,000 elementary school students in the Boone County area. School officials believe the shots allowed students to not miss school for doctor's appointments, as well as stopping the spread of the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children under the age of five are especially susceptible to the flu. Each year, nearly 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized for flu related symptoms. Those in contact with children that age are also candidates for getting the flu, which is why the CDC recommends the public receive a vaccination each year. This year, the vaccination was to cover three different types of influenza viruses.

Federal grants covered the vaccine for the first two years (2009, 2010). With budget cuts at the federal and state level, the vaccines did not fit in the budget. We would love to be vaccinating in schools this year," Genalee Alexander of the Columbia/Boone County Health Department said. "However, with the federal and state budget cuts that have come down, we just could not absorb the cost of those school-based vaccinations."

Columbia Public Schools Officials  are disappointed the vaccine will not be available. Spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said, "We're sorry that we won't be able to have that same thing moving forward, but we certainly encourage parents doing the vaccinations through the health department."

As Alexander said, "If there were money available to do the school-based clinics, we would certainly pursue it. Vaccinations is one of public health's core values and core missions, and we beleive in the effectiveness of the vaccine. If there was a way we could vaccinate children and make it easy for parents, we would certainly do that."

Columbia school officials and the health department both want to continue offering vaccinations in schools, if possible, in the future.