Hawaii 8th best for H1N1 shots
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
Twenty-four percent of people in the Islands have been vaccinated against H1N1, ranking Hawai'i eighth in the nation, state health officials announced yesterday on the anniversary of the Islands' first confirmed cases of "swine flu."
Since the H1N1 vaccine became available in October, 340,883 people have been vaccinated, including more than 71,000 students and 9,700 teachers across 342 schools.
"It's not too late to be vaccinated," said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist. "There's still plenty of vaccine available."
Only Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa had higher percentages of people vaccinated in their states.
But Hawai'i ranks No. 1 in the nation with 55 percent of Island residents already vaccinated against the regular seasonal flu.
H1N1 was discovered in Veracruz, Mexico, in April 2009 and reached Island shores on May 5, 2009, with positive diagnoses of a child and an unrelated military couple who had recently flown into O'ahu, said Health Director Dr. Chiyo-me Fukino.
Unlike seasonal flu that hits elderly people particularly hard, the H1N1 virus appeared to target young people with no underlying medical problems.
Hawai'i's first H1N1 death was reported at Tripler Army Medical Center on June 19. The 13th — and last — was reported at an undisclosed location on O'ahu in January.
O'ahu had 11 of the state's H1N1 deaths and two occurred on the Big Island.
More than 80,000 of Hawai'i's H1N1 vaccinations can be traced to the annual "Stop Flu At School" campaign, which began in Mililani in 2006 to vaccinate schoolchildren and teachers against seasonal flu.
Park credited her predecessor, Dr. Paul Effler — whom she called "a big thinker" — for helping to create the vaccination program that has since grown to include public, private and charter schools.
With the outbreak of H1N1, Park said it was easy to supplement the school vaccination program with the national supply of H1N1 vaccine.
"Kids definitely seem to be the source of community spread of not just flu, but a lot of ... illnesses," Park said. "Focusing on kids helps the community as a whole."
The next flu season is expected to hit the Islands in October, Park said, and the new vaccinations will include immunization against H1N1.