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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 30, 2010

Isles' flu shot rate tops U.S.

Advertiser Staff and News Services

The Stop Flu at School program was the chief reason that Hawai'i leads the nation with the best seasonal flu vaccination rate this year, state health officials said.

Hawai'i had a seasonal flu vaccination rate of nearly 55 percent, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It was a nice surprise," said Dr. Sarah Park, DOH state epidemiologist. "We knew we were up there because we were so successful with our school flu vaccination last year.

"Everything points to the fact that the pandemic will likely dominate the flu season again."

The CDC agreed with Park's assessment and said fears of swine flu helped boost vaccinations nationally for ordinary seasonal flu last year, with a record 40 percent of adults and children getting the vaccine.

The national jump in seasonal vaccinations was most dramatic in children, but vaccinations also increased in healthy adults under 50, according to the CDC.

In Hawai'i, more than 55,000 students received the H1N1 vaccine.

A total of 71,000 students received seasonal flu shots at 342 schools statewide this year through the Stop Flu at School program, which provides free vaccinations.

In the past two years, an average of 60,000 students were inoculated for seasonal flu at school, according to the state Department of Health.

"This validates the Stop Flu at School program," Park said. "It's something Hawai'i can feel proud of. The question is will the same up-tick occur in the upcoming flu season."

Every fall, state health officials partner with the state Department of Education with the Hawai'i Association of Independent Schools, and Hawai'i Catholic Schools with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawai'i chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Academy of Family Physicians, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and the Hawai'i Medical Services Association to put on Stop Flu at School.

Flu shots have been around since the 1940s. But several factors made last fall's campaign unusual, according to the CDC:

• Swine flu appeared last spring and was unusually dangerous to children and young adults, prompting more interest in regular flu shots.

• Government recommendations kicked in calling for seasonal flu vaccinations for all children.

• Seasonal vaccine was out earlier than usual so manufacturers could focus on the separate swine flu vaccine.

Annual flu shots were recommended for roughly 85 percent of Americans during the vaccination campaign. Those supposed to get the vaccine include children, pregnant women, senior citizens, health care workers and people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease.

Seasonal vaccine protects against three strains of flu virus. Next fall's vaccine will include swine flu and not be a separate shot.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine were close behind Hawai'i in seasonal flu vaccinations, giving New England the highest rate as a region.

The Southeast is at the bottom of the list, with Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama showing rates under 36 percent.

"Flu shots are our best option for prevention of the flu," Park said. "A lot of the success is that it was a collaborative effort all around. It's a good accomplishment from a public health perspective."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.