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H1N1 vaccine demand has not reached projected levels
By James Fuller | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/27/2010 12:02 AM

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Initial access to the H1N1 vaccine in Kane County came only after waiting an average of 31/2 hours at a handful of public clinics in local school gymnasiums. Since then, the average waiting time to get a vaccine dose through a Kane County Health Department clinic is about 30 minutes. The decreased wait may indicate the county is handling demand better. But it also may be an indication that public fears associated with H1N1, and the demand for the vaccine, have not materialized the way public health officials first envisioned.

Initial projections tallied between 200,000 and 300,000 residents falling in the high-risk group that would most benefit from the vaccine. Medical providers ordered 218,000 doses of the vaccine to meet that possible demand. About 105,000 doses of that order have been delivered so far. Paul Kuehnert, the county's executive director of the health department, reported Tuesday early indications are that fewer than 47,000 county residents have received the vaccine.

Kuehnert said there is a reporting lag to the state, so it's possible more residents have been vaccinated. However, the low total is also traceable to a prematurely diminished level of public concern, he said.

"When the perception of their vulnerability to the illness kind of backs off, their interest in the vaccine diminishes," Kuehnert said. "But there's plenty of vaccine available now. And one of two things will happen. It is likely there will be another wave of H1N1, or there will still be H1N1 mixed into the flu going forward."

Health officials say they are prepared for a possible second wave of H1N1 infections, but unless a second wave unleashes a public outcry for the vaccine that outstrips the initial offering, a lot of vaccines will go to waste when they expire at the end of this summer.

Kuehnert encouraged people to continue making appointments to receive the vaccine, especially while the health department continues to offer it for free.

Beyond that issue, Kuehnert said the county learned several lessons from the initial H1N1 frenzy.

"They're the lessons we often learn in many disasters," Kuehnert said. "Information is really key. It has to be accurate, timely, accessible."

That means better coordination among all the counties in the suburban area, Kuehnert said. It also means better communication among fire, police and the medical world.

Kuehnert said the health department is seeking community input about how the county handled the vaccine offering. But H1N1 may have been the perfect training to handle more difficult scenarios.

"If we had to have a pandemic, this was probably the best pandemic scenario we could possibly have," Kuehnert said. "It did not involve a virus that was as virulent, as evil if you will, as feared in some of the pandemic scenarios."