Flu vaccine availability lean but not critical


Some West Hawaii pharmacies are out of flu shots, but more doses are on the way, and the state isn’t in any kind of “functional” vaccine shortage, state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said Wednesday.

“There is stock out there with the vaccination companies,” Park said, adding clinics and pharmacies are able to order more doses of the shot. “As fast as they’re restocking, they’re gone.”

Flu levels in Hawaii are slightly higher than the five-year average, but nowhere near the infection rate on the mainland, she added. According to the Department of Health’s flu surveillance report, 3.8 percent of visits to Hawaii doctors during the last week of 2012 were due to influenza-like illness, compared with 5.6 percent of doctor visits on the mainland during the same time period.

“We’re not seeing a mass number of outbreaks across the state,” Park said.

Interest in the vaccine has been high, especially in the last few weeks as the number of flu cases on the mainland rises and national media reports focus on the situation. Several East Coast cities declared states of emergency this week because of the high number of flu cases, Park said.

Krissi Hirata, a pharmacist at Longs Drugs in Kailua-Kona, said people do keep coming to the store seeking the shot. Her pharmacy ran out about a week ago.

“We are about to order vaccines,” she said. “There’s just not much stock. We’re not getting our orders.”

Mina Pharmacy Store Manager Gary Miltimore said demand has been especially high, although the store still had about 60 doses of the shot left Wednesday morning. Kaiser Permanente clinics in Kailua-Kona, South Kona and Waimea still had doses left, said Dr. Daryl Kurozawa, associate medical director for the neighbor islands and Big Island physician in charge.

But the insurance and health care provider’s hospital, on Oahu, had run out of stock, Dr. Philip Bruno, an infectious disease doctor, said. He expected the hospital would have more in stock by Friday. He said Kaiser last week began encouraging its members to get the shot, and the company went through 5,000 doses in a week.

“There’s absolutely value in getting it at this point,” Bruno said.

Hawaii typically sees two flu season peaks, one in the spring, another in late summer or early fall, Bruno said. He attributed that to Hawaii being a crossroads, and the influx of visitors from south of the equator during their flu season, which is summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Hawaii residents also then catch the flu from Northern Hemisphere visitors in the winter.

Pharmacies and clinics running low on shots now isn’t a big surprise, Bruno said.

“If they’ve been giving a lot of flu shots, their supply is going to be low,” he said, adding the seasonal flu shot is generally available starting in late August or early September. Kaiser kicks off its campaign to encourage its members to get their flu shots in October, he said.

Park added the push for vaccines this month, as reported by pharmacists and doctors, is “just a really abnormal increase in demand.”

She offered advice for people looking for the shot now, and a reminder for next flu season.

“Don’t wait til the last minute,” she said. “Be a little more persistent about looking for it. It’s out there.”