HONOLULU (KHNL) - A new school year means the anticipation of the winter flu season. The state Department of Health has launched its "Stop Flu at School" program, offering free seasonal flu vaccine to Hawaii's children.
Iit's a huge statewide program, targeting students in 334 public, private and charter schools. This week, students will come home with this form, explaining everything they need to know about the flu vaccine.
Classrooms like this one at Ka'iulani Elementary in Kalihi are laboratories for learning, but they can also be a breeding ground for influenza.
"I know being in school there's so many kids and a lot of germs and when students are sick, they're not in school," said Kristina Lawyer, a first grade teacher at Ka'iulani. "As a teacher, it's not good for me; it's not good for the kids. They need to be in school."
Seasonal flu is a reality of life. Each year, more than 36,000 Americans die from regular influenza.
That's why the Department of Health and Hawaii's schools are teaming up to make sure as many kids get vaccinated as possible.
"When our children are healthy, they attend school more days, they attend classes, and they get the quality education they are deserving of," said Daniel Hamada, an assistant superintendent at the Department of Education.
Teachers say practicing good hygiene and getting a flu shot will help kids stay healthy.
"Very important because it's a highly contagious environment," said Iris Nguyen, a special education teacher at Ka'iulani. "So for them to take those measures so a) they don't get sick, and b) if they are sick, not to spread it around to other people. So keeping the flu, particularly swine flu, outside of the school environment."
State health officials are especially concerned this season because of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. If ten to fifteen percent of students at a school are out sick, they may consider shutting it down.
"If that many children show up absent, then we do in fact go into the school and do an investigation to determine what the cause is," said Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the director of the state Department of Health.
That's why schools are taking preventive measures to keep kids healthy.
"For us as teachers, attendance is the most important thing," said Lawyer. "We want our students coming to school, we want them healthy, we want them ready to learn."
The seasonal flu vaccine will be available to elementary and middle school students during their regular school day. The flu vaccine forms are due no later than September 11.
And keep in mind, this is just for seasonal flu vaccine. Swine flu is something different, and that vaccine will be available a bit later.