H1N1 Shots Widely Available, but Do People Want Them?

The White House is campaigning for more flu vaccinations as supply catches up.

ByLauren Cox<br>abc News Medical Unit
January 11, 2010, 7:19 PM

Jan. 12, 2010&#151; -- A few months ago lines worthy of a rock concert formed around flu clinics as people clamored for the limited number of H1N1 vaccines.

Now the government says there is ample supply, yet public health experts are finding that people are no longer interested in getting the vaccine.

President Obama even declared this week to be National Influenza Vaccination Week and spoke to "strongly encourage" the public to get vaccinated.

"This week presents a window of opportunity for us to prevent a possible third wave of H1N1 flu in the United States," Obama said in a statement Sunday. "I strongly encourage those who have not yet received the H1N1 flu vaccine to do so."

Richard Quartarone, a spokesman for the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated "at least 60 million Americans have been vaccinated" and that 140 million more doses are at the ready for adults, who should get one dose, or children who need two doses.

The vaccines are in such plentiful supply that they are now available to anyone, not just those on a priority list. But even millions of those on the priority list -- young children, pregnant women and health care workers -- have yet to receive a vaccine.

For example, the Illinois Department of Public Health estimates half of people in the state considered to be in the priority group have been vaccinated so far.

"It's really a supply and demand issue, and we were pushing a campaign for people to come in and get vaccinated," said Dr. Damon Arnold, Illinois Department of Public Health director. "The flu season actually extends from about October to April. … We're still not out of the danger zone for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu."

Experts say that interest in any flu shot -- H1N1 or not -- tends to drop in January despite the length of the flu season, but explanations as to why the public stops worrying vary.

"There is an abundant supply now of H1N1 vaccine. It's out there. Whether you go into a pharmacy or public health clinic or the like -- and more is being shipped on a weekly basis. That's the very best news," said Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

"It's also clear that interest in getting vaccinated has diminished," he said.

Did The Holiday Rush Lead Us to Forget Swine Flu?

Schaffner, guessed part of the dropoff has to do with the holidays.

"They're interested in shopping for presents not vaccines," said Schaffner. "But it's certainly not too late to get vaccinated -- the time to get vaccinated is now, now would be the best time."

H1N1's late debut in spring (most flu viruses don't pick up until fall) led to a media blitz as doctors raced to understand the virus and develop a vaccine.

Some doctors worry that the early peak in spring and a second peak in fall have left the public thinking the H1N1 virus is on the decline.

"Certainly 2009 H1N1 is abating in most states of the country," said Dr. Rich Whitley, president of IDSA.

The rise and fall of H1N1, also known as swine flu, in conjunction with a shortage of the vaccine has left some tired of thinking about the issue and ready to forgo the vaccine.

"At age 63, and with numerous medical problems, I qualified for early H1N1 flu vaccination, however, I could not find anywhere to get it," Patricia Williams, of Springvale, Maine, wrote in to ABCNews.com.

"Now that the 'crisis' is over, I hear that the vaccine may be readily available. ... This entire situation was a farce. The announcement of the urgency for people to be immunized did not match up to the availability of the vaccine," wrote Williams, who says she does not want to be vaccinated any longer.

Others were so fed up hearing about the H1N1, and other threatening infections in the media, that they didn't believe there was a threat with the new flu virus in the first place.

"I won't get one, and I don't get the regular flu vaccine," said Wes Marques, of Bentonville, Ark. "It's just one of those things for more medication and for people to worry about because people see something on the news -- it's like the SARS thing and the avian flu, and it will be the same thing for the H1N1."

But doctors say they cannot guarantee that the seasonal flu will be mild this year, or that there won't be another wave of H1N1 outbreaks.

Doctors Don't Know if H1N1 Will Return

Whitley estimates between 50 million and 70 million Americans have already been infected with H1N1.

"At least for 2009, H1N1 people think that the disease has come and gone, but they need to remember that the lessons we have learned from the past indicates there could be a second wave of the pandemic," said Whitley, who is also professor of pediatrics microbiology medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Although timing might be on doctors' minds, ABC News most often heard from people who were convinced the H1N1 vaccine was a ploy to make money.

"It was clear to me from the beginning that the H1N1 swine flu 'pandemic' was nothing more than a hoax perpetuated by big pharma to drive vaccine sales," Barbara Atkinson of Phoenix wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com. "The fact main stream [sic] media and the White House perpetuated the lie is nothing short of contemptible."

Yet experts say vaccines make pharmaceutical companies little money compared with other medications, and doctors who administer the vaccines don't make much profit either.

"There is no profit for the H1N1 vaccine. The federal [government] purchased H1N1 vaccine to ensure every American who wants to be vaccinated is able to be vaccinated. Public health is not a profit-driven endeavor," said Quartarone of the CDC.

"Your local health department who is charging an administrative fee, is certainly not making money off of it," he added.

Dr. Scott Gorenstein, an emergency medicine physician in Long Island, N.Y., also believes it's a public misconception that vaccines are a particularly big money-maker. Gorenstein estimates the drugs taken daily like blood pressure or cholesterol medication are far more profitable.

"Vaccines, much to people's dismay, don't really make money for the pharmaceutical companies," said Gorenstein. "It's a onetime dose, and it's less likely that you're going to get a payday for this."

Gorenstein is especially adamant about dispelling H1N1 myths after his 4-year-old son almost died from the virus this November.

H1N1 Virus Can Be Deadly

"He started coughing on Thursday, Nov. 19, at midnight. By 1 or 2 in the afternoon Friday, he was in respiratory distress," said Gorenstein.

Gorenstein said his son, who has mild asthma, was on a mechanical ventilator less than 24 hours after the first symptoms appeared. When that failed to help him, the hospital had to scramble to get another ventilator that could do what is known as high-frequency oscillatory ventilation.

The hospital succeeded, and his son recovered after he spent a week on the "oscillator" as Gorenstein called it.

"We weren't sure if he would make it until ...until Nov. 22," said Gorenstein.

Gorenstein said his son had just received the first of two doses of the H1N1 vaccine and didn't have enough time to build immunity. He has made a full recovery, and Gorenstein decided to start a charity called Children's Positive Outcome to buy hospitals the oscillating ventilators.

"There's a segment of the population where that's probably OK not to get it [the H1N1 vaccine]. You're relatively healthy, nonpregnant, and nonasthmatic. But for someone who's at risk ... not so much," said Gorenstein.

"If something's benign in 99 percent of the cases and you're the one who dies from it you don't care that you're the 1 percent," he said.

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