Hawaii gives 7,174 state workers priority for swine flu vaccine
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
More than 7,000 state workers identified as critical personnel have been offered priority access to the H1N1 vaccine to ensure that government operations continue running smoothly in the event of a worst-case flu scenario.
A total of 7,174 employees, or about 14 percent of the roughly 50,000 state workers, are on the state's priority list, said Ray Lovell, spokesman for state Civil Defense, which compiled the list. The list covers workers in all three branches of government.
"These positions had to do with continuity of operations of government," Lovell said. "You don't want a whole department to shut down because you lost key people, out with the flu."
The list includes critical workers for everything from the taxation department to the health department's clean water branch to the transportation department.
As much as 5 percent of the state's allotted vaccine, now at 217,800 doses, is designated to go to priority state employees who were given vouchers to obtain the vaccine, Lovell said. But so far only 736 people have taken advantage of the program.
Dr. Sarah Park, of the state Department of Health, said the program to vaccinate state workers has been temporarily suspended because of short supplies of the vaccine.
The program is only temporarily shut down, said Janice Okubo, DOH spokeswoman. "We won't release any more vouchers until we feel there's sufficient supplies in the community," she said.
LIST TO STAY SECRET
Lovell said the governor's chief of staff, Barry Fukunaga, directed his office to compile the priority state worker list around Oct. 1.
Civil Defense, in turn, asked state department heads to submit their list of critical personnel.
The counties also have priority lists for workers to get the vaccine, but details of their lists — including the total number — were not available yesterday.
Lovell said the state list is broken down by department and how many workers in each have been authorized to receive the vaccine.
However, Lovell would not release the list, citing homeland security concerns.
"That kind of information is sensitive," he said. "It's the kind of information that we feel could be used against us from a homeland security standpoint."
The vaccine is available in limited quantities in Hawai'i and was first given to frontline emergency responders such as paramedics, firefighters and health workers, then to members of groups considered at greatest risk of complications from the H1N1, or swine, flu. That includes pregnant women and young people ages 6 months to 24 years.
Of the 217,800 doses allocated, 99,000 have been delivered to providers in Hawai'i and 26 percent reported used, Okubo said.
The designation of critical personnel is in line with federal guidelines set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, which recommend that the first people inoculated should be "deployed and mission critical personnel."
ENOUGH FOR ALL?
Käne'ohe resident Davin Inamine is a state worker, but he's not sure he's among the 7,174 who will qualify for an early H1N1 flu vaccination. Even if he was, he'd decline the shot until children had theirs first.
"I don't care about me," Inamine said. "The kids should get it first. If there's a chance my son or my daughter could get the vaccination now, I'm there."
Maegan Hochberg said she hopes there will be enough vaccine for the rest of the people who are in the high-risk category.
"I'd like to get my vaccination soon," said Hochberg, who works at a public school.
Hawai'i Pacific University student Alex Bee, however, didn't care one way or the other. He wasn't planning to get the vaccine.
"For the kids and the essential workers, it's all about getting the vaccine and distributing it as soon as possible," Bee said. "I think the government needs to be able to guarantee that they have enough to give to all of us."
Jay Maddock, chairman of the public health and epidemiology program at the University of Hawai'i-Mänoa, said the number of state workers slated for the vaccine under this program is a small fraction of the total number of dosages available.
Not knowing who was on the list and what their job is makes it difficult to tell if the right people are getting the vaccine, Maddock said.
"We know this happens in clusters and so you could lose your entire sanitation division," he said.
"Remember back to the sewage spill in Waikíkí several years ago. If people aren't available to work on things like that, you could get major public health damage."