LIHUE — Looking down the barrel of the 2018-19 flu season, and in the wake of the worst flu season on record, health officials are reminding everyone to get a shot.
Center for Disease Control reported more than 80,000 deaths from the flu in the 2017-18 season and on Kauai, pharmacists say patients are jumping on the immunization bandwagon more willingly than they have in the past.
“I’ve been seeing more people getting the shots,” said Mathew Mullhay, pharmacist at Longs in Kapaa. “People around here are definitely proactive about it, I’ve seen a lot more compared to what it was five years ago.”
Mullhay said he’s administered about 400 shots this season as of Monday and his counterpart at the Lihue Longs pharmacy has administered around 600.
“That’s over 1,000 people just in the Longs’ system, it is pretty well accepted at this point,” Mullhay said.
At Lihue Pharmacy, pharmacist Rachel Ebbett says they’ve been busy administering shots as well.
“People are more open-minded about it,” Ebbett said. “It benefits no matter what.”
Health officials have put out the notice that now’s the time to get your flu shots for two reasons — because it takes two weeks for your body to build immunity after the shot, and because on Kauai supplies can run out.
Center for Disease Control recommends people get a flu shot before the end of October, just before flu season begins.
“Last year there were no flu shots available to get after October, everyone on island was sold out except for one store,” Mullhay said. “The guys that make the shot, they only make so much, so we encourage people to get it as soon as possible.”
According to the state Department of Health, it’s never too late to get a vaccination.
“Vaccination should provide immunity for the current season’s circulating flu virus and has been observed to last through the traditional season,” said Anna Koethe, DOH spokeswoman. “Since circulating viruses vary from year to year, annual vaccination with the current season’s vaccine is important.”
That’s why health officials don’t recommend revaccination and say last season’s vaccine should not be assumed to cover circulating flu viruses for the following season.
“Immunity decreases over time,” Koethe said.
Recent CDC studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 to 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine available.
“Think back two or three years ago when we had such a bad flu season, that shot was only 30 to 40 percent effective because there’s this one specific strain of H1N1 that’s hard to make a vaccine for,” Mullhay said.
Flu vaccines protect against three or four viruses, depending on the vaccine, according to CDC.
“No vaccine out there for any illness is 100 percent effective and guaranteed to work,” Koethe said. “What we do know is that vaccination is our best defense against the flu, and the best way to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.”
On Kauai, flu season activities are already in full swing and we’re half-way through the 2018 Stop Flu at School clinics.
“These school-based clinics are a good reminder for parents and the rest of the community that it’s time for our annual flu vaccines,” said Kauai District Health Officer Janet Berreman.
In addition, all staff members at Wilcox Medical Center and Kauai Medical Clinic are required to be immunized this year, or wear a mask when in designated patient areas, in order to prevent spread of the viruses.
“As a health care provider, one of our top priorities is ensuring the health and safety of both our patients and our staff, and that includes taking these steps to help prevent the spread of the flu,” said Jen Chahanovich, Wilcox Medical Center president and CEO.
Chahanovich continued: “All of these steps together — getting immunized for influenza, thorough handwashing or wearing a mask — can help keep everyone healthy during flu season.”
Flu shots are available at all of Kauai’s Longs Drugs locations, at the Safeway pharmacies in Lihue and Kapaa, at the Foodland locations in Kapaa and Princeville, at the Costco pharmacy in Lihue and at Lihue Pharmacy.
“If you haven’t already, now is good time to visit your health care provider or pharmacy to be vaccinated,” Berreman said. “Getting vaccinated protects yourself and helps protect those around you, especially infants too young to be vaccinated and those who are especially vulnerable, such as our kupuna.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org