Though the H1N1 vaccine is still not widely available, some states are doing a better job than others at keeping their public informed about where the limited supply can be found.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has admitted that getting enough vaccine to all the states will be a "bumpy road," but a state-by-state comparison of flu Web sites reveals that some states, like New Jersey, Wisconsin and Kansas, are helping this process run a little smoother by providing vaccine locating tools, lists of local doctors who will provide the vaccine, and even phone numbers for hotlines devoted to helping the public locate a H1N1 vaccine clinic or doctor nearby.
Meanwhile, other state health department Web sites keep their citizens in the dark. For example, Alabama and Mississippi have virtually no specific information about where flu shots can be found, and at best, they suggest that you "contact your health provider" or promise that information is "coming soon."
As of Friday, 16.1 million doses of H1N1 vaccine were available for shipping to health providers nationwide, and millions more become available every week. Now that vaccine supply is increasing, it's up to state and local health departments to let the public know when vaccine will be coming to their area and where those eligible can go to get it.
Using the information on New Jersey's site, one can easily find counties that have available clinics, the location of the clinics, and the times they will administer vaccine -- though you must be a resident of that county to attend such a clinic. A quick statewide search turns up a few counties that are currently providing clinics; Randolph Township, for example, will hold a nasal spray clinic this Thursday for residents who are in the CDC's priority group.
For those not eligible to receive the nasal spray -- pregnant women, for example -- local health departments are taking names and contact information for a priority list. When injectable vaccine becomes available in the county, those on this list will get a call.
This is the way Washington County, Kan., is handling the situation as well. Anyone in the CDC's priority group can be put on a list and will be called in to receive their vaccination when it arrives at their local health department.
Many other states provide this level of information. Georgia's Web site offers a list of doctors who will provide the vaccine -- to current patients and to new ones -- once it's delivered to them. Their site also connects users with local county health department clinics. While not all counties have clinics at this point, those that do, such as Jefferson County, have all the necessary information right there: dates, location, time of day and a phone number for fielding questions.
North Carolina's Web site has a "flu clinic finder" that currently connects users to local seasonal flu clinics, but will transition seamlessly into an "H1N1 clinic finder" once enough vaccine is available.
California's Web site, like many states', links users out to their local county health department's site, which can be hit or miss at finding vaccine information. If your county happens to be one of the good ones, with lots of vaccine information, then finding a clinic can take a matter of seconds.
With vaccine production chugging along, it is essential that states have means of communicating with the public so that when vaccine supply does pick up, residents will know how to get vaccinated. For example, even though Wisconsin does not yet provide H1N1 vaccine clinics on a broad basis, they already have a 2-1-1 number in place -- a statewide hotline that links the public with information on a nearby flu clinic.