Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Following the H1N1 vaccine trail, from shortage, to surplus and maybe For Sale?

Another round of H1N1 flu shots got underway today in the city, part of the weekly sessions designed to ensure that anyone who wants the shot will get one, even if the process seems to go on and on and on.

Yet it could be that the H1N1 surge has already come and gone, at least that seems to be the thought out of Vancouver where it's being reported that millions of dollars worth of doses of the vaccine may go unused as British Columbians decide that the worst has passed and getting the shot may not be worth their time.

The timeline of vaccine delivery in the province and across the country for that matter has been the topic of much controversy, with long lines initially at the launch of the H1N1 program, as what seemed like near panic arose with the dire predictions of potential infection rates and casualty figures.

Things didn't help when each day brought a new revelation of potential shortages, rescheduled clinics or changing directions as to who qualified for a shot in any given week.

The greatest spike locally it seemed came when the outbreak of the H1N1 virus hit schools across the Northwest, closing some for days at a time and leaving other schools to closely watch their attendance lists for any signs of a spike in cases of the flu.

It was at that point, that the line ups grew, patience was in short supply and the media coverage exploded on the issue. As residents of the Northwest stood in line to gain valuable spots for their chance to get the vaccine, the visual seemed to be something of a throwback to the days of Russia's Stalin era, with line ups stretching well outside of the Health Unit, while locals waited patiently for a ticket, one that meant you would be able to come back later in the day and line up again (hopefully for a shorter period of time) for your turn at the needle.

So with three weeks of those kinds of scenarios combined with the frustration of arriving on the scene, only to learn that no more tickets were to be had that day, it's no surprise that once the outbreak seemed to decline, so did the rush for the shots.

The push to get the vaccine wasn't helped to any degree by a report out of Ontario that said that the key period to get the shot has now passed and with it any real dangers of the H1N1 flu, and while health officials have tried to counter that argument with frequent public notices to make sure we get the vaccine, it would seem that a good number of folks have had enough of it all and have returned to the previous pattern normally associated with the regular flu shot, one which sees only a minority of the population take advantage of the opportunity for vaccination.

As for the H1N1 shots it's estimated that only 40 percent of the population has received the shot so far, so the prospect of the Ministry of Health finding itself with a large surplus is a very real possibility now. With that prospect in mind, the chief public health officer is still urging Canadians to get their H1N1 shots.

What they will do with that surplus will certainly be of interest, some of their options include keeping it for next fall’s flu season, selling it to other jurisdictions or donating some of the surplus to developing countries. There is also some thought being given to holding onto it for any potential third wave of the virus during the Olympics, where we gather one line up will appear to be no different than the other.

If the slowing trend continues, there will most likely be some study or another conducted after this flu season to determine just why in the end only a certain number of British Columbians took up the offer of an H1N1 shot.

When that time comes, perhaps having a look back at the way the distribution programs were carried out across the province might help unravel the mystery a bit.
Clearly it seems that the harder it was to actually gain access to the vaccine in the early days, had a direct impact on the number of residents that in the end seem to have decided that the wait wasn't worth their trouble.

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