By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK
The state continues its efforts against the flu by control through inoculation of children. Its voluntary school-based vaccination program, offering nasal mist or shots, begins this week in West Hawaii.
For six years, the Stop Flu at School program has offered free seasonal flu vaccines to kindergarten through eighth grade students, teachers, administrators and staff at Hawaii elementary and middle schools. A partnership between the state Departments of Health and Education, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, and Hawaii Catholic Schools, the program is possible through U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Hawaii Association of Health Plans funding. Health Director Loretta Fuddy said it helps improve the state’s overall preparedness to respond to an infectious disease emergency like pandemic influenza.
DOH expects to vaccinate more than 60,000 students through the program, which began Monday and continues in more than 300 schools statewide through Dec. 7.
Just 9,383 students, or 41 percent, and 772 staff members, or 22 percent, islandwide have signed up. Of the 59 participating Big Island schools, 23 schools are in West Hawaii, said Martha Yamada, public health nursing supervisor for the district health office.
Bringing the flu vaccine to students, ages 5 to 13, instead of hoping their busy parents or guardians have the time to take their kids to the doctor, their only other option, makes sense and it’s convenient, said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist. Children 14 and older are allowed flu shots from pharmacists, she added.
“By vaccinating school children, we not only protect our keiki, but their families and communities, as well,” Park said.
National health officials in late September warned influenza is unpredictable, and last year’s mild season is not necessarily an indication of what can be expected in the 2012-13. Even during mild seasons, the flu takes a serious toll, they said.
Nationally, school children have very high rates of flu illness, often exceeding 10 percent each year. Influenza outbreaks might be prevented or the severity of illnesses lessened if a greater proportion of students is immunized, according to DOH.
Children are a major conduit of flu infection, in the classroom and the home and also in the community. The recommendation for who should get a flu shot has grown in recent years to include everyone older than 6 months, Yamada said. Anyone who is allergic to eggs, has had a serious reaction to a previous flu shot or has Guillain-Barre syndrome should not get the flu vaccine, she added.
There’s no universal flu vaccine and vaccines that exist don’t provide long-term immunity. So every year, people need a new flu vaccination to protect them against the ever-changing seasonal flu virus and the various strains circulating, Park said.
Top health organization officials worldwide, including the World Health Organization and CDC, annually analyze and select viruses for inclusion in the vaccine based upon which strains are circulating, how they are spreading and how well the current vaccine strain is protecting against newly identified strains. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three viral strains most likely to cause flu in the upcoming year, Park said.
This year’s seasonal flu vaccine has one strain in common with last year’s vaccine, an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus, plus two new viral strains — an A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus and a B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus (from the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses). In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines what viruses will be used in vaccines, according to the CDC.
Consent forms were sent to parents and guardians and the deadline was Sept. 27. Participants receive the vaccinations from more than 1,000 clinic staff, including public health nurses and volunteers from the Hawaii Medical Reserve Corps; State Department of Defense; Kaiser Permanente; University of Hawaii at Hilo School of Pharmacy and nursing programs at the UH Manoa, Kapiolani Community College, UH-Hilo, Kauai County Community College, and UH Maui College. The process, including waiting, takes 15 minutes or less for each participant, Yamada said.
Visit stopfluatschool.com or call the Aloha United Way’s information and referral line at 2-1-1.
LIST OF LOCATIONS: Today: Waikoloa Elementary & Middle, Connections NCPCS
Oct. 17: Waimea Middle PCCS, Waimea Montessori School, Waiakea Elementary
Oct. 18: Kohala Elementary, Kohala Mission School, Waiakeawaena Elementary
Oct. 19: Hookena Elementary, Ke Kula O Ehunui Kaimalino, St. Joseph Elementary & Intermediate
Oct. 22: Haaheo Elementary, E Makaala School
Oct. 23: Keaau Middle, Konawaena Elementary
Oct. 24: Honaunau Elementary
Oct. 25: Innovations PCS, Hualalai Academy, Laupahoehoe High & Elementary, Paauilo Elementary & Intermediate
Oct. 26: Konawaena Middle, Ka Umeke Kaeo PCS, Keaukaha Elementary, Ke Ana Laahana PCS
Oct. 30: Parker School, Waimea Country School, DeSilva Elementary, Kaumana Elementary
Nov. 1: Naalehu Elementary & Intermediate, Kealakehe Intermediate
Nov. 2: Holualoa Elementary
Nov. 5: Hilo Intermediate
Nov. 7: West Hawaii Explorations Academy, Kanu o ka Aina, Pahoa Elementary, Pahoa High & Intermediate
Nov. 8: Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Ke Kula Nawahiokalani Iki Laboratory PCS, Keaau Elementary
Nov. 9: Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii Campus
Nov. 13: Mountain View Elementary, Waters of Life PCS
Nov. 14: Waiakea Intermediate, Kohala Middle
Nov. 15: Kalanianaole Elementary & Intermediate, Waimea Elementary
Nov. 16: Honokaa High & Intermediate, Honokaa Elementary
Nov. 19: Volcano School of Arts and Sciences
Nov. 20: Hilo Union Elementary, Kealakehe Elementary
Nov. 21: Kahakai Elementary, Kapiolani Elementary
Nov. 27: Ka‘u High & Pahal Elementary
Dec. 4: Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science PCS, Keonepoko Elementary
Source: East Hawaii Public Health Nursing