H1N1: The Vaccine Few People Want

The H1N1 vaccination numbers are in for January, and the federal effort to promote this vaccine has come up way short. 

The upshot, last Friday, was a plea from the Dr. Anne Schuchat during a CDC press conference: “Many people believe the outbreak is over, and I think it’s too soon for us to have that type of complacency…We are not at all out of the woods because the [H1N1] virus continues to circulate.” 

courtesy Public Health Image Library, CDC

Dr. Schuchat, a leader of the CDC’s H1N1 vaccination campaign, faces a tough sell to the American public, and the numbers she reported Friday tell the story: According to a U.S. survey by the CDC, about 70 million Americans (23% of the U.S. population) received at least one H1N1 vaccine dose through January 30, an increase of only 9 million since the last survey that covered the period through January 2. In contrast, 61 million received the vaccine from its U.S. introduction at the start of last October through Jan 2. In other words, an average of 20 million people a month got the vaccine during the first 3 months, when distribution was mostly limited to high-risk people, compared with 9 million during January, when the vaccine was available to anyone who asked for it. 

These statistics were largely confirmed by results from a second, independent survey conducted by Harvard researchers, who also reported on Friday that 21% of Americans had received the vaccine as of late January. The Harvard poll also found that 44% of Americans said that the H1N1 outbreak was over. 

The H1N1 vaccine uptake numbers look especially bleak given the heavy publicity the campaign received when the vaccine came out last fall, and again early in January during the National Influenza Vaccination Week. And in a striking contrast, last fall 32% of Americans received the seasonal flu vaccine for 2009-2010, according to a RAND corporation report, an incredible irony because the flu strains covered by that vaccine have largely been out of circulation this flu season. Near the end of the 2008-2009 flu season, 38% of Americans had received that season’s vaccine, RAND also reported.

What’s the problem with H1N1? “Our results show there was broad awareness of the public health messages on H1N1; approximately 3/4ths of the public reported seeing ads regarding the importance of getting the H1N1 vaccine since December, but many people did not respond to the message,” said a researcher from the Harvard survey. 

The CDC and its parent federal department need to do a lot of self-examination to figure out how they failed so dramatically. 

To read more about this topic, see my article from February 11.

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter @mitchelzoler)

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Filed under Family Medicine, Health Policy, Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Practice Trends, Primary care

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