By Sagan Evans
HNN Fall Intern
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -- A lack of funding is forcing the state to scale back its annual school vaccination program.
Officials said flu shots won't be offered in private schools this year, and will be available in fewer public schools.
Parents are being urged to reach out to their own health care providers.
"We recognize that many families relied on the 'Stop Flu at School' program as a free and convenient way to vaccinate their children," said Dr. Virginia Pressler, director of the state Health Department.
"Stop Flu at School" provides free flu shots to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
This year, the program will be offered to approximately 90 Oahu public schools and all Neighbor Island public schools.
"After careful consideration, we understood it was critical to prioritize eligible schools based on students with the greatest need for assistance," Pressler said. "This allowed us to maximize the benefit to the public while utilizing the limited funds and resources available."
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said funding for the flu program has steadily declined in recent years, and the cutback comes as the Health Department also grapples with a host of other issues, including an outbreak of mumps and a growing number of rat lungworm cases.
"When we weighed all the options, this was the best option we could come up with, given the funding decreases, given our on going challenges, this was what we decided," Park said.
Park added for parents who can't take advantage of the program, pharmacies are now able to provide flu vaccine to children ages 11 to 17 with a prescription.
In addition to getting vaccinated, officials urged those who get sick to stay home and wash their hands frequently.
Families at "Stop Flu at School" participating schools will be getting information packets and consent forms next month. Vaccination clinics are scheduled to begin Nov. 1.
For more information on "Stop Flu at School," click here.