DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
DROP IN H1N1 VACCINE DEMAND CONCERNS HUNTERDON HEALTH OFFICIALS
With the holiday season upon us, the sudden drop in demand by high-risk populations seeking H1N1 influenza vaccinations is causing concern among health care professionals in Hunterdon County. The health department has three H1N1 flu clinics open for pre-registration and none are yet filled to capacity. Specifically, of the 1,700 total appointments made available with these three events, only 1,092 spots were taken as of December 3. Earlier, the agency could not keep up with demand for the vaccinations. Meanwhile, Hunterdon Healthcare and its network of private practices are reporting a similar drop-off in H1N1 vaccine demand.
“We’re reaching out to residents to encourage them to get vaccinated for H1N1 flu and not to think that somehow, sometime over the last week or so we’ve turned the corner on the pandemic,” said John Beckley, county health officer and director of the health department. “H1N1 remains active in the U.S., in New Jersey, and in Hunterdon County. Couple that with an expected increase in seasonal flu throughout the holiday season, and the lull we’re experiencing now may well be a temporary respite.”
Beckley’s recommendation comes as the county is beginning to build at least an adequate supply of H1N1 vaccine in a variety of formulations.
With these supplies, the health department is hosting the three clinics now open for registration and is finalizing plans for additional H1N1 clinics in upcoming weeks.
Physician practices of Hunterdon Healthcare are also encouraging their patients to remain vigilant about H1N1 flu and to get a shot as vaccine supplies now are making that possible for a wider group of the population beyond just those with chronic medical conditions.
“H1N1 influenza is still very much with us,” said Dr. Geralyn Prosswimmer, Hunterdon Pediatrics Associates. “With more vaccine becoming available, now is a good time to take action and schedule a vaccination, before the holidays set in. In fact, the state health department right now is actively exploring plans to widen the scope of administering H1N1 vaccinations beyond the earlier defined “high risk” groups. A decision is expected within the next week.”
According to both Beckley and Dr. Prosswimmer, there remains a high level of misunderstanding across the public about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine and who should get vaccinated. “We continue to respond to questions from residents asking if the vaccine is safe,” said Beckley.
“The answer is, yes. The H1N1 vaccine is made using the same manufacturing process as the seasonal flu shots we get each year. We’re also striving to get across the message that H1N1 flu is serious and continues to cause hospitalizations and deaths around the country, particularly in children. H1N1 flu has not come and gone; not yet, anyway. Getting vaccinated is the safest protection that exists.”
The health department and physician offices also report growing numbers of people thinking that because their children were ill several weeks ago, they likely had H1N1 and therefore do not need a vaccination now.
“That is a risky position to take,“ said Dr. Prosswimmer. “The possible severity of this influenza suggests that it is better to be safe and get vaccinated than to take a chance and put at risk someone who could be vulnerable.”
To register for a health department H1N1 clinic, go to www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/health.htm. The clinics are December 3 at South Hunterdon Regional High School, 5-7PM; December 5 at Holland Brook Middle School, 10AM-1PM; and December 6 at Voorhees Regional High School, 10AM-4PM. Residents having questions or difficulties scheduling on line should contact the health department H1N1 call center at 908-237-7150 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nearly all physician practices in Hunterdon County are also H1N1 vaccine providers for their patients. In addition, all Hunterdon Healthcare operated practices also have seasonal flu vaccine available. For more information, visit www.hunterdonhealthcare.org or call your primary care physician.