Dozens of St. James students were given Meningococcal vaccinations and inoculated against Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough) April 16 at St. James High School--all at no charge.

Jane Pfeffer, from Watonwan County Public Health, said the county was offered free vaccines from the Minnesota Department of Health this fall. But, in order to use it, certain criteria needed to be met.

“We had to make it a public health preparedness exercise,” she said. “This opens it up to everybody, even those without insurance.”

Back in the fall, they conducted flu clinics in schools in St. James, Butterfield, and Madelia, Pfeffer said, and it was “geared toward kids from six months to 18 (years of age).” About 500 children were inoculated against the flu.

In the event of a bioterrorism disaster or a flu epidemic, public health would need to vaccinate everyone in the county--roughly 11,000 people--in 36 hours, Pfeffer said. So, on April 16, students receiving inoculations were divided into groups of 10 to determine how quickly the vaccinations could be accomplished, and the average was about one minute per student. Lynette Martin, from public health, did the time-keeping.

Children need to have certain shots before they’re permitted into seventh grade, Pfeffer said. Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough) has long been required, but Meningococcal (meningitis) immunizations are now also required under Minnesota law.

Pfeffer said many colleges also require incoming freshmen to have been given the Meningococcal shot, but it’s expensive--about $100 per dose. So, in addition to sixth graders, high school juniors and seniors were also eligible for the shots April 16.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness and the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children age two through 18 in the U.S. Meningitis is an infection of the covering of the brain and the spinal cord; meningococcal disease also causes blood infections.

Of the 1,000-1,200 people in America who contract meningococcal disease each year, 10-15 percent die--even when treated with proper antibiotics--according to the CDC. Of those who live, 11-19 percent lose limbs, have struggles with their central nervous system, lose their hearing, suffer seizures and strokes, or experience other problems.

Prior to this event in St. James, shots were also given to about 50 students in Butterfield, and the inoculation team has also gone to Madelia, Pfeffer said. In addition to Julie Peterson, the county’s emergency management director, and an assortment of public health personnel, the actual vaccinations were executed by four juniors in the Minnesota State University--Mankato College of Nursing.

For Amanda Gobin, Laura Anderson, Victoria Swiontek, and Angela Klebe, this was their first time administering shots to the public--”but we didn’t tell the kids that,” Klebe added quickly with a reassuring laugh. Swiontek said some of the students were “anxious,” but Gobin said, “You just had to talk them through it.”

“I always really liked helping people,” Gobin said, when asked why she’s pursuing a nursing track. “The human body is really fascinating.”

Swiontek, who, like Gobin is a Minnesota native (she’s from Jordan, while Gobin hails from Rose Creek), said she appreciates the way nursing combines science and the body with an aspect of caring. Anderson, from Hudson, Wis., said she also was drawn to nursing by the opportunity to care for others.

“(Nursing) really keeps you on your toes, too,” she said. “I love the human interaction.”

For Klebe, who grew up north of the Twin Cities, relatives influenced her decision to enter nursing.

“Both my cousins are older, and they are already nurses,” she said. “They inspired me.”

Though they’d finished their vaccinating work at the high school by noon, none of the ladies had any plans to relax for the rest of the day. With only three weeks of school left this semester, they all planned to hit the books when they returned to Mankato.

“We really appreciate this opportunity,” Klebe said of their time in St. James. “You can’t learn this in a classroom.”

Pfeffer said it’s a relationship of mutualism. “It’s great experience for (the nursing students), and we certainly appreciate the help.”