Flu fears spark run on shots
Vaccine: HMSA runs out and cancels free clinics, but it expects to get a new supply
High demand for flu shots has caused the Hawaii Medical Service Association to run out of the vaccine for a series of free clinics for its members, but state health officials say they don't expect a shortage.
The Hawaii Medical Service Association has canceled five flu shot clinics set for today through Nov. 17 after running out of vaccines.
The canceled clinics had been scheduled today at the Pukalani Foodland on Maui; Wednesday at the Longs in Moiliili; Nov. 10 at Manoa Longs; Nov. 12 at Kapiolani Community College; and Nov. 17 at the Ward Warehouse.
HMSA members should contact their physician to get a flu shot.
"We don't think there's any type of shortage at this time," said state Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo, adding that the high demand since the start of October was likely spurred by residents fearing a repeat of last year's nationwide flu vaccine shortage.
"It's really good that so many people have gotten their flu shot early," she said.
HMSA spokeswoman Laura Lott said turnout for HMSA's free flu shot clinics was so high that the organization ran out of vaccines this week and had to cancel five clinics scheduled between today and Nov. 17. HMSA is the state's largest medical insurer.
Health care workers administered more than 34,000 flu shots at the clinics, which started in September and were held at malls, drug stores and fairs statewide. HMSA members can still get vaccines from their physicians, Lott said.
"We ran through our supply of vaccine a little quicker than we expected," she said.
Chris Pablo, director of government and community affairs for Kaiser Permanente, said the health care provider has been "deluged" with people seeking flu shots and has used up about 70 percent of its supplies.
But he also said that's on target for this month. Kaiser wants to use up about 90 percent of its flu shots by December.
"We've been really working hard at getting many of our members immunized," he said.
The Queen's Medical Center also has enough vaccines, a spokeswoman said.
Okubo said there have been anecdotal reports that some Hawaii doctors have run out of flu shots. She said none of those have been confirmed, but urged high-risk patients -- including the elderly and people with chronic diseases -- to get their shot as soon as possible.
Also, a Hawaii Kai family practitioner said yesterday that he still hasn't received his flu vaccines for this year because of a backlog at Henry Schein, one of the nation's largest medical distributors.
Dr. Blane Chong, whose office is on Keahole Street, said Schein representatives haven't been able to tell him when he'll get his shipment of the flu vaccine.
Schein officials have blamed the problems on delays at manufacturer Chiron, which caused last year's nationwide vaccine shortage after contamination was reported at its England plant and production was forced to stop, cutting the U.S. flu vaccine supply in half.
This year, Chiron was behind in starting production. A Schein spokesman could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Chong said several other Hawaii doctors are also awaiting shipments of flu vaccines, but he could not identify them.
The Centers for Disease Control reports there was "sporadic" flu activity in Hawaii between Oct. 23 and Oct. 29. Thirteen other states also reported sporadic cases of the flu over the seven-day period, which was the latest available.
Okubo said 250,000 doses of flu vaccine were shipped to private physicians and other health care providers in the islands for this year's influenza season.
On Oct. 28, the state Health Department told physicians that they could apply to receive a portion of the state's 6,000 flu vaccine doses -- ideally, if they have or are about to run out. She said it's normal for the state to offer doctors the doses.
Okubo could not say how many physicians applied for them, or whether they had used up all their flu shots. But she did say the agency has received applications and will be distributing the vaccines "fairly soon."
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... and on kim chee?
Cabbage: Recent research has caused a fervor, as people start to stock up
Midwesterners are stocking up on kim chee and sauerkraut, but not for parties, hot dogs or Reuben sandwiches.
They're storing it in case there's a bird flu pandemic.
The sour-cabbage craze was triggered by news reports that Seoul National University scientists in Korea used "kim chee sauerkraut" successfully to treat chickens infected with avian flu.
The researchers fed a kim chee extract containing a high level of lactic acid bacteria to 13 infected birds and 11 were still alive the next week, Chris Smith, marketing vice president for Frank's Sauerkraut, said in a telephone interview. The Franks brand is produced by the Fremont Co. in Fremont, Ohio.
Smith said the Seoul report was picked up by BBC, then CBS affiliate WCCO in Minneapolis. The week after the story hit Minneapolis, overall sales of Frank's Sauerkraut climbed an average of 77 percent over the same week last year at 54 Midwest retail stores surveyed, he said.
Although the company had no promotions or commercials, nine stores reported a sales increase of more than 150 percent and one reported an 850 percent jump, he said.
"People are stocking up on sauerkraut like bottled water before a hurricane hits," Smith said.
"Maybe they're not buying cases of it," he conceded, "but someone who buys three or four cans a year is (now) buying three or four at one time or more."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Kim Chee III restaurant on Young Street yesterday, owner Myung Ae Kim, left, held a plate of cabbage kim chee while her sister-in-law Kum Chung Park held up some radish kim chee. News reports of a beneficial kim chee effect on chickens with avian flu have Midwesterners abuzz.
Word of the report's findings have also spread to the islands, and some businesses that sell kim chee say they are seeing an increase in sales.
Myung Ae Kim, owner of the Kim Chee III, said her customers can't stop talking about the possibility that kim chee guards against avian flu. She thinks it's the dish's garlic and chili pepper that does the trick.
Her son is more skeptical.
"If it helps fight against it, great," said Frank Kim, a waiter at the restaurant. "But how can that be?"
Meanwhile, he said, business at the restaurant has been "steady."
Smith said Frank's Sauerkraut and other products of the 100-year-old food company are distributed to retail outlets and food services nationally, including distribution to food services in Hawaii.
Men's Health Magazine advised developing a pandemic kit containing sauerkraut because of its lactic acid bacteria, he noted.
The Fremont Co.'s Web site, www.sauerkraut.com, describes "kimchi" as "a seasoned variety of sauerkraut that shares lactobacillus bacteria with traditional sauerkraut, which may be the critical element in preventing avian flu."
The article calls sauerkraut "the super food of the 21st century," noting a recent study in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" concluded that sauerkraut is a cancer inhibitor.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Audrey Tanuvasa fed her 1-year-old son, Demetrius, some kim chee yesterday at the Kim Chee III restaurant on Young Street. She said he loves the pickled cabbage after it is dipped in water, to dilute spiciness.
The study discovered that fermentation of cabbage produced isothiocynates, a substance that prevents cancer growth, and it's rich in cruciferous phytochemicals, which fight diseases.
"We're taking this very seriously," Smith said, adding that the company isn't doing any promotions or saying it has a cure for avian flu because the Seoul study was small. "But people obviously are stocking up on the product. I think 'rather be safe than sorry' is the mindset."
He said the cutting season for cabbage is ending. "We're telling our growers to bring anything left in the fields and we're putting it in tanks to be prepared."
Dr. Duane Gubler, professor and chairman of tropical medicine at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine and director of the Asia-Pacific Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, offers this advice: "By all means eat kim chee because it's really great, but don't depend on it to prevent avian influenza. Until there are some documented, good clinical trials with something like this, you can't rely on it."
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has no information about the value or use of fermented cabbage to prevent or treat avian flu, a spokesperson said.
Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Vorsino contributed to this report.