With the H1N1 flu virus still circulating, state health officials urge parents to sign their children up for free vaccinations.
The state’s Protect Hawaii’s Keiki: Stop Flu at School program enters its fourth year in offering free flu shots. About 330 public and private schools statewide are participating.
A few weeks ago the World Health Organization announced H1N1 "has largely run its course." But state Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park warned yesterday at a news conference in the governor’s office, "It’s still around. It’s still circulating and behaving more like seasonal flu viruses, each of which carries the possibility or potential to cause severe disease."
Parents are urged to fill out a consent form and return it to their child’s school by Sept. 9. Forms are available at www.stopfluatschool.com. The voluntary program offered to children between ages 5 and 13 at designated schools statewide will run from Oct. 12 to Dec. 2.
Last year there was a large-scale vaccination program because of the H1N1 flu pandemic and a separate seasonal flu shot program. But this year there is only the seasonal program because the flu vaccine that contains a "2009 H1N1-like component" will be available to students this year at school-based clinics.
Officials also say the vaccine will help prevent the spread of the virus to other children and their family members, especially the vulnerable population that includes pregnant women and those with asthma, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
According to the stopfluatschool.com website, the number of children getting vaccinated through the program has steadily increased since its inception four years ago. More than 60,000 students were vaccinated in the 2007-2008 flu season. The number increased to more than 62,000 the following year and more than 70,000 in the 2009-2010 flu season.
The clinics offer a convenient site for children to get vaccinated instead of parents having to take time off from work to take their child to their health care provider.
Education officials stressed the importance of getting the flu vaccination as students cannot afford to miss any school days. "Ultimately, if they get sick and they have to stay home, they miss out on valuable instructional time, which we know in Hawaii has been a very hotly contested and talked-about issue," said Ronn Nozoe, acting deputy superintendent of the Department of Education. "We really want to make sure that we maximize those number of days in school."
For a complete list of schools and clinic dates of the Stop Flu at School program, go to www.stopfluatschool.com.
QUICK FACTS, TIPS ABOUT FLU VACCINE
» Flu viruses change from year to year. If a child received a flu vaccination last year, it will not protect him or her from new strains this year, which is why it is recommended that a child get a flu shot every year.
» A nasal spray flu vaccine is available for children who do not wish to get the traditional flu shot.
» No make-up clinics will be available. If a child misses his or her scheduled school flu vaccination clinic, a regular health provider will have to administer the shot.
» Children 8 years and younger who are receiving the flu vaccination for the first time need to get a second dose. Parents need to contact their regular health provider to schedule an appointment for the second dose.
» Completed consent forms are to be submitted to your child’s school by Sept. 9. To obtain a consent form for the free flu vaccination for your child or for more information, go to www.stopfluatschool.com.
Source: State Department of Health’s Stop Flu at School program website