Bill would expand school flu program
Some 60,000 students received vaccinations statewide this season
More than 60,000 Hawaii students received free vaccinations to prevent illness during the 2007-2008 influenza season, and state lawmakers are considering a bill for an expanded program.
The House Health Committee moved a measure to the House Education and Finance committees yesterday that would provide for a voluntary statewide influenza vaccination program in public schools.
State Health Director Chiyome Fukino estimated the cost at about $2.36 million to offer free nasal spray mist or flu shots to public and private students in grades K-8.
She said the department has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for about $850,000 to help pay for vaccines and supplies.
Dr. Paul Effler, state epidemiologist, told the Health Committee the first statewide vaccination program, Protect Hawaii's Keiki: Stop Flu at School, was "a remarkable success."
It was aimed at keeping kids from getting sick and reducing transmission of flu, but it also enabled the state to prepare for a flu pandemic by running more than 600 clinics in the schools as a command center for mass vaccinations, he said.
Medical Reserve Corps members operated the clinics with nurses and other volunteers "to see what it would take to get the job done in an emergency," Effler said.
He said parents responded favorably, with more than 40 percent of children ages 5 to 13 vaccinated.
"Many parents in the past felt flu was not so important, but younger children end up hospitalized and school-age children are the real engine for transmission," he said in an interview.
About 9,000 teachers also were vaccinated, he said.
He said the vaccines were purchased with $1.5 million in federal funds.
The impact cannot be determined until flu season is over, he said, explaining the season often runs through late January and February and flu activity appears to be on the increase now. "It looks like just the liftoff stage."
School-age children are not considered at high risk for death from flu, but annual flu rates among schoolchildren often exceed 10 percent, Fukino said.
Children age 5 to 18 also are among the major transmission routes for influenza in the community, she said, noting more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized and 36,000 die each year in the U.S. from influenza.
"Focused prevention of influenza infection among all children over 5 years of age should not only prevent childhood morbidity, but also decrease influenza among working adults and the elderly," she said.
Effler said he is seeking support from federal and other sources to launch another free flu vaccination program in the fall for schoolchildren 5 to 13 years old. "I'd like to even increase participation rates above 40 percent."
He believes such programs not only will prevent illness, but will prove cost-effective.
The Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and Hawaii Catholic Schools also participated in last year's program. Support was provided by the CDC, Hawaii chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Academy of Family Physicians, Kaiser Permanente and the Hawaii Medical Service Association.