The relative paucity of H1N1 vaccine is confusing and frustrating. But the real danger is that it becomes discouraging.
Public health officials, including those in Spokane and Kootenai counties, have had to scrap their mass inoculation plans because production deadlines were missed. The Spokane Regional Health District has received about one-fifth the amount of vaccine that officials expected, so it had to scrap or reorganize planned clinics. Vaccinations planned at North Idaho schools have been postponed for a week.
The health district is now advising people to contact their health care providers, because that’s where future vaccine shipments are headed. This is frustrating for those who have already called and been turned away, but they should keep calling. State Health Secretary Mary Selecky says the state expects another 500,000 doses by early next week, and the amount will increase further as soon as production catches up with demand.
The fear is that people who are discouraged by the confusion will forgo inoculations. Another concern is that people who think they’ve already suffered through the H1N1 flu will not get vaccinated. Public health officials say that’s a bad gamble, because it might not have been the H1N1 strain that made them sick.
The federal government’s unrealistic predictions of vaccine availability stoked demand, but the failure to meet the deadline could have the opposite effect. The medical community knows that a six-month production timeline is not unusual, but the general public was not apprised. Instead, the hope that a vaccine would be available shortly after school started became an expectation, and local health officials planned accordingly.
While all of that is aggravating, it’s important to remember the importance of vaccination. H1N1 is a novel and nasty virus. It is attacking the young and the healthy in disproportionate numbers. Younger patients are getting sicker than older ones, which is the opposite of what happens with seasonal flu. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at least 19 more child deaths, which is the largest one-week increase. Furthermore, we’ve yet to hit the traditional flu season of February and March, when the weather drives people indoors and closer to one another.
So go ahead and curse the government, but don’t give up on vaccination. Getting sick and spreading the flu are much worse.