News

Fewer Locals Getting H1N1 Vaccine Since Supply Increase

Though supply of the H1N1 vaccine in Fairfax County is now readily available, demand has plummeted since mass vaccination clinics in the area became open to everyone, Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said this week. clinic

Though supply of the H1N1 vaccine in Fairfax County is now readily available, demand has plummeted since mass vaccination clinics in the area became open to everyone, Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said this week.

clinic

Fairfax County R.N. Leah Deike (right) administers an H1N1 vaccine to an 83-year-old patient from Alexandria. (Photo: News-Press)

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported last Friday that for every one American vaccinated against H1N1, four are not. Locally, the number vaccinated per day at Fairfax County clinics has dropped from the thousands to the hundreds since last November, when the influenza subtype hit its second wave. A limited supply of the H1N1 vaccine was administered to CDC priority groups at that time.

Addo-Ayensu attributed the decrease in H1N1 vaccination clinic patrons to a lack of media hype, but warned the flu season does not peak until February or March. Therefore, she said, it’s essential for those four out of five remaining people to get the H1N1 vaccine as soon as possible.

“When people were under the impression there was a limited availability of the vaccine, a lot of them wanted it — it’s human nature. I think now a lot of people assume the threat is over,” said Addo-Ayensu.

Though no states are claiming widespread influenza activity, Virginia remains one of nine states that continue to report regional activity. Last week, the Fairfax County Health Department advised anyone left unvaccinated to get the H1N1 vaccine during National Influenza Vaccination Week.

On average that week, 500 people per day were vaccinated at the five Fairfax County Health Department clinics, a significant decrease from the 7,000 per day at one central location last November when the vaccine was harder to come by.

According to Addo-Ayensu, pandemics historically appear in two to three waves in the course of a year. With last April and November considered H1N1’s two peak periods, she said that medical experts can’t predict if a third hit will occur, but it’s imperative residents get vaccinated in case another widespread infection strikes in the coming months, causing another vaccine shortage.

“If people get vaccinated now, we can build herd immunity, which means if enough people in our region are immune, we’ll avert a potential third wave of infection,” said Addo-Ayensu, who cautioned, however, “I don’t want people clamoring at [clinic] doors, creating chaos and panic” like last November.

Marilyn Oliver, 74, of Alexandria and her 78-year-old husband were both vaccinated for H1N1 this Tuesday at the Fairfax County Government Center. Oliver told the News-Press it was the first time they’d attempted to get vaccinated, but were surprised by the short wait.

“We were in and out. I think it’s a personal choice whether or not to get vaccinated. A lot of people are concerned about the possible side effects and complications, but we came here at the recommendation of our doctor to make sure we’re protected today,” said Oliver.

Addo-Ayensu said the H1N1 vaccine takes about two weeks to take effect, adding that’s why it isn’t advisable for people to wait until they see people around them becoming ill.

When long lines and turned-away vaccination clinic patrons last November left some area residents distraught, it took its toll on local healthcare workers. Addo-Ayensu is relieved those days are over, for now.

“In November, people would call me and tell me about their daughter who had a medical condition but didn’t fit the criteria. You could sense their pain and it wasn’t always easy saying no, but we had to stick with the criteria,” she said. “Otherwise, we would have opened the floodgates to do something unsustainable.”

When the H1N1 vaccine was in limited supply last year, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the vaccine be given to the high-risk groups, including pregnant women, people caring for children younger than 6 months, health care and emergency medical services personnel, anyone 6 months – 24 years of age, and people ages of 25 – 64 years of age with chronic health conditions.

Now that the vaccine has become widely available, however, the CDC encourages all who remain unvaccinated, including people 65 and older, to get the vaccine if their local supply allows them to do so.

“H1N1 has disproportionately impacted the younger generation, as well as people with underlying conditions. In terms of severity, it’s about the same as seasonal flu so far. We hope it continues to stay that way, but you never know. The flu is notorious for changing,” said Addo-Ayensu.

Between last April and December, H1N1 took 11,160 lives nationally. Its estimated the seasonal flu  kills 36,000 people annually in the U.S.

The H1N1 vaccine is available on a walk-in basis for free to anyone who wants it through the Fairfax County Health Department’s five district offices. To find locations, visit fairfaxcounty.gov.

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*