Hawaii school vaccination rates have been dropping, increasing the risk of more school absenteeism and the spread of communicable diseases in classrooms. A recent report from the Hawaii Department of Health (HIDOH) shows that the percentage of Hawaii students without routine vaccinations for preventable illnesses, such as measles and mumps, rose to 18.7% in the last school year, as compared to 3.44% in 2019-2020. The national trend in childhood immunization also decreased to 94% in 2020 from 95% before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CDC.
In an effort to help increase the student vaccination rate and provide better access to immunizations in schools, Hawaii Keiki (HK): Healthy and Ready to Learn Program has partnered with Vaccines for Children (VFC), a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to eligible children who may not otherwise be vaccinated. Vaccines are stored, managed and administered by HK Nurse Practitioners who work closely with the Hawaii Department of Education, HIDOH and primary care providers in a coordinated effort to provide care for students and their families.
HK piloted its first VFC site in the 2021-2022 academic year in the Aiea-Moanalua-Radford (AMR) Complex Area. Most recently, the program hosted a VFC event at Aiea Elementary. “Vaccines are an important tool to prevent communicable disease in the community and keep our students safe and healthy. By bringing vaccination clinics directly to schools and providing the services at no-cost, we shift the burden away from students and families,” says Rachel Ramiro, Hawaii Keiki Nurse Practitioner and lead for the HK VFC clinic for AMR Complex Area. “We are proud to be able to assist the families of the AMR Complex area with routine immunizations while also having an opportunity to refer them back to their pediatricians for important routine child visits.
Since its launch, HK’s VFC Program received funding from HMSA to launch a VFC site on Hawaii Island to serve the Kau-Keaau-Pahoa (KKP) Complex Area. HK Nurse Practitioner Zoë Shih coordinates this VFC effort and has seen the benefits first hand of having vaccination clinics at schools, especially those in rural communities. “In KKP there are barriers related to social determinants of health that make access to health care and vaccinations a challenge for many families,” says Zoë. “By meeting the kids at school we can help to bridge that gap and keep kids up to date on their routine vaccinations.”
Since the program’s launch, the HK VFC Program has administered over 80 vaccinations to students. As the concern for student vaccination rates has grown, HK hopes to expand the program to meet the needs of the schools and communities Statewide.
“It is important to strengthen the role of schools in the delivery of recommended vaccines and checking vaccination status at entry to, or during school, to achieve and sustain elimination of these vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs),” says Deborah Mattheus, HK Senior Practice Director. “Ensuring children are protected against all VPDs is important not only for the health of the child, their family and community, but also for a healthy school environment, which is a prerequisite for optimal learning. By providing these vaccines in schools we can also reduce the barriers to access and family hardships resulting from a parent needing to miss work resulting in loss of Income.”
A list of necessary school vaccines, including for kids attending daycare and preschool, can be found on the Department of Health’s website. Visit the Hawaii Keiki: Healthy and Ready to Learn website to learn more about the program.