Dept. of Health prepares for swine flu vaccine

Dr. Sarah Park
Dr. Sarah Park

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - The first ever swine flu vaccine will go public in a matter of weeks. Initially, only three million doses were expected, but Friday, manufacturers have since doubled that to six million.

They'll be available the first week of October. So they'll be released at the same time so no one region has an advantage over another. And Hawaii health officials say getting this vaccine is very important.

Swine flu, or H1N1, hit parts of the country hard over the spring and parts of summer. This fall, Hawaii has not seen a rise in influenza cases so far.

"Many people think it's over, but it isn't," said Dr. Sarah Park, Hawaii's chief epidemiologist. "This is what we've been talking about in terms of pandemic. It's not just a one point in time. It goes on and it comes back in waves."

She adds, what we're seeing right is a lull before the swine flu storm. That's why she's encouraging everyone to get the H1N1 vaccine.

"Do you really want to take that chance?" Dr. Park asked. "Can you afford to be sick?"

It'll be available first to high risk groups, like children and young adults, pregnant women, healthcare workers, and people with underlying medical conditions like asthma or diabetes.

And it's important to remember, seasonal flu vaccine is different from the swine flu vaccine.

"Seasonal flu vaccine is specifically for those three strains that are traditionally regularly circulating flu," said Dr. Park. "H1N1 vaccine is just for this pandemic strain that is going around. Neither one covers for the other so getting both of them is really important for everyone."

And the swine flu vaccine appears to be very safe.

"Indeed in the clinical trials what they're seeing is people respond the same way as they respond to regular seasonal vaccine," said Dr. Park.

Swine flu snuck up parts of the mainland, ahead of the flu season. The Hawaii Department of Health hopes to avoid that.

"Because if we're successful and we get the vaccine into as many persons as possible," said Dr. Park. "We could potentially not see a second wave or a very weakened one compared to what our counterparts on the mainland are seeing."

She adds, swine flu is similar to how surf behaves. A set comes in, then a lull, then another set.

"With the vaccine, we hope that it'll just put up a wall so that the next set won't hit us here in Hawaii," said Dr. Park.

Again, the swine flu vaccine will be available the first week of October. High risk groups will get them first, and then, the rest of the population.