H1N1 vaccinations will open up to everyone in Hawaii next week
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i health officials will lift their restrictions on H1N1 vaccine injections sometime next week and are urging people in high-risk groups to get vaccinated against the swine flu in the next several days before everyone else becomes eligible.
With demand for the injectable form of swine flu vaccine apparently decreasing, state health officials plan to tell doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other vaccine providers as early as next week that everyone will be eligible for the injectable form, said state Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.
In December, the nasal mist form of the H1N1 vaccine became available to everyone. But it is not recommended for some people, such as children under 2 years old, pregnant women, people age 50 and older, and those with conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic heart or lung disease.
Hawai'i this week became the last state to continue to limit the injectable form of the H1N1 vaccine, after Louisiana health officials on Monday made their supply available to everyone.
"We were just waiting to make sure we had the amount of vaccine to be comfortable to open it up," said Sean Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. "Now everyone that wants it can come get it."
Hawai'i health officials continued to limit their supply of injectable H1N1 vaccine, in part, because they wanted to make sure there is enough for people who should not be vaccinated with the nasal mist form.
'GOOD SUPPLY NOW'
The Islands were allocated a total of 523,300 doses of H1N1 vaccine from the national supply as of Dec. 30 — and 366,140 doses have been shipped or are in transit, Okubo said.
The H1N1 experience in the Islands also has been different from that on the Mainland, Okubo said.
People in Hawai'i got hit hard last year by the initial wave of H1N1 cases, and health officials were bracing for a second wave that swept the Mainland — but never materialized here, Okubo said.
At the same time, Hawai'i health officials worried that the disease potentially could have spread in large numbers from the continual influx of travelers from Asia.
"We're trying to be as cautious as possible," Okubo said. "We just want to stick to how we planned and mapped this out and make sure that people in priority groups have gotten access to the vaccine."
Activity of typical seasonal flu appears to be normal, Okubo said, and reports of shortages of the injectable H1N1 vaccine have dropped.
So the Health Department's Immunization Branch believes "we have a good supply now," Okubo said.
State Sen. David Ige, D-16th (Pearl City, 'Aiea), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, believes it's prudent to now make the injectable form of the vaccine available to everyone.
"My sense is that there definitely seems to be more vaccine available and we haven't had a call in the last week and half of people unable to get their vaccine," Ige said. "I'm glad they're lifting the restriction."
During the upcoming legislative session, Ige plans to hold "nonconfrontational, roundtable" discussions to review the Health Department's response to the swine flu outbreak.
Ige, an engineer by trade, believes "it's always a good idea to take a step back after a period of time and ask what went well and what didn't and what can we learn from this experience."
He is not concerned that Hawai'i waited to become the last state to lift its limits on H1N1 injections.
"You could see the flu marching across the country," Ige said. "Clearly, in this case, we did benefit from being so geographically isolated."