School flu program gets much-needed shot in the arm

Published: Oct. 17, 2011 at 9:24 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 18, 2011 at 12:04 AM HST
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Lt. Governor Brian Schatz
Lt. Governor Brian Schatz

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – "Stop Flu at School" week kicked off today. Hawaii is the only state in the nation to provide statewide vaccinations at public, private, and charter schools. But the program came dangerously close to ending this year.

Third grader Chan Phu Huynh is one of 230 students at Kuhio elementary lining up for his flu vaccine. He may only be eight, but he knows a poke will protect him. "Making me more healthy and not sick," replies Chan Phu - when I ask him what vaccinations do. "So, they fight all the bad germs in my body."

For the past five years, health experts have administered the "Stop Flu" program at more than 300 primary schools in Hawaii. But this year, federal funds ran out and nearly ended the program.

Lt. Governor Brian Schatz explains, "It keeps people healthy. It helps our economy by reducing sick days, and yet we just didn't have the government resources to make it work, and so the private sector stepped up."

The Hawaii Association of Health Plans kicked in almost $800,000 to extend the program for at least another year - good news to ensure kids don't miss class.

Predicting the strain of virus to protect against from year to year isn't an exact science, but health officials carefully study which strains are most widespread and go from there.

The Centers for Disease Control projects a record amount of flu vaccine this year, so there's plenty of supply to go around.

"The recommendation is now that everyone, as long as they don't have a contra-indication to vaccination, like allergy or such, they should be vaccinated, from six months and up," says Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist.

The vaccines are available through nasal spray or a shot in the arm. We revisit third grader Chan Phu Huynh – just before he gets vaccinated with a needle. "How are you feeling, Chan?" I ask him. He replies, "I feel kind of nervous. And if my mom sees this, I want to say 'hi'."

Even through nerves, a brave Chan Phu remembers to always give props to dear, ol' Mom.

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