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|Sun, 09-12-2010 - 9:33am|
H1N1 vaccine demand peters out
Health departments left with thousands of surplus doses
People waited in line for hours last fall for the H1N1 vaccine as officials warned about the spreading pandemic. But, due to less demand than expected and production delays, local health departments now are getting rid of thousands of surplus doses that have become so much medical waste.
The CDC shipped 126 million doses of the vaccine under a $1.6 billion federal program, but officials estimate that only between 72 million and 81 million people have been vaccinated across the country.
In Illinois, more than 3.5 million vaccines have been distributed to local health departments, but very rough estimates say just 1.6 million had been administered by the end of March, said Melaney Arnold, a spokesperson for the state health department.
"If you think back to (the fall), we had demand that outstripped supply, and then as we started getting all the vaccine in December, the demand just really fell off," said Paul Kuehnert, executive director of the Kane County Health Department. "It's certainly disappointing, the timing and the fact that we have vaccine on our hands now."
Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, explained that federal officials decided "to be sure we had a dose for everyone who wanted it. There was a lot of uncertainty about what we were going to be up against."
Illinois began a new advertising campaign this week warning people that the virus is still a threat through the flu season that ends in late April or early May, and urging them to consider vaccination.
"A lot of people have become complacent about it," Arnold said.
The H1N1 strain of the flu never became the widespread problem that health officials once feared. In Illinois, the illness hospitalized a little more than 3,000 people, killing 105 — including a person in Cook County last month, according to Arnold.
Now, local health departments are contracting with medical waste disposal companies to get rid of thousands of doses of vaccine that began expiring this week.
Lake County will dispose of about 2,400 doses of the spray vaccine that have expired. About 15,500 doses of the injectable vaccine remain of the 100,000 the county ordered, officials said.
"We were very lucky that the virus was not as virulent as it could have been," said Mark Pfister, the county's population health services director.
The Lake County Health Department provided some of its remaining vaccines on Thursday to people at New Hope Christian Fellowship Church in Mundelein, where Mexican immigrants had come to apply for Mexican passports.
Gregorio Flores, 44, of Mundelein, said he decided to take advantage of the free shot after applying for his passport because he hopes it keeps him from getting the flu this year.
"I was working a lot last year and didn't have an opportunity to get the vaccine, so this was my first chance," he said.
The Cook County Department of Public Health has received 199,235 vaccines and distributed nearly 163,000 by early March, said spokesperson Amy Poore.
In Will County, the health department received about 85,000 doses of the vaccine, mostly in early December. More than two-thirds of the supply remains undistributed, officials said.
About 22,000 doses of the injectable vaccine expired on Wednesday, said Vic Reato, a county health department spokesman.
"They're taken out of the refrigerator and they‘re locked away," Reato said. "They're just stored away in an office somewhere."
The Kane County Health Department received about 68,000 doses of the vaccine, of which 43 percent remain unused.
"We're continuing to see some demand — it's obviously much lighter than it was in the fall — and we‘re continuing to make the vaccine available to folks in our community," Kuehnert said. "We still have our hot line set up and on a daily basis we're probably seeing a dozen calls or so."
While praising the speed with which the new vaccine was brought to market, Kuehnert said it arrived too late to match the spread of the epidemic in the fall.
The DuPage County Health Department received 140,098 vaccines and administered 96,685.
"We support the public health message that your best protection is to get vaccinated and we still have appointments for free vaccine, said spokesman David Hass. "It is also clear that the public interest in vaccine is declining at this time."
Freelance writers Robert Channick and Ruth Fuller contributed to this report.