Monday, May 30, 2011

H1N1 influenza pandemic, vaccine, and my part in the response

My fascination with nearly all things medical probably started with my mother’s stories of her work as a Labor and Delivery nurse. When I read my first account of the 1918 influenza pandemic, that fascination turned to stories related to the epidemiology of how viruses spread and the public health measures taken to prevent, when possible, or contain when not. I knew that I would see a flu outbreak in my lifetime, but I never expected to have such a close experience with the response efforts.

H1N1 Influenza A
When I began my work as a public health information specialist, I was thrilled to combine my interests with my skills. That is how, in early May 2009, I found myself elbow-deep in disseminating information related to the H1N1 pandemic. I was the smallest cog in a tremendously complex response effort—much of it done by people whose expertise I could grasp just enough to admire. Seeing the flu response unfold from inside a public health laboratory was everything and nothing like I had imagined.

H1N1 flu is a novel form of the influenza virus that first sickened humans in the United States in April 2009. In June, the World Health Organization declared that the widespread H1N1 outbreak, while unexpectedly mild to moderate, had developed into a pandemic, the term for a global outbreak.

A shortfall in influenza vaccine stocks exacerbated the 2009 pandemic. Because I was pregnant at the time, I was at the top of the vaccination priority list issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (update 11/9/20: The priority list link for the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 has expired, but here is updated CDC info on the influenza vaccine and pregnancy). Despite this priority, there was no vaccine available. While working long hours at the flu response, my husband and I tried numerous sources to locate vaccine, including my Ob/Gyn, Primary Care Provider, work (normally a good source to promote public health preparedness), and local clinics. Months later, we finally found a source. After screening to ensure that I was a member of the priority group, a small city clinic administered the vaccine on November 5, 2009.

The beginning of December 2009 marked a real turning point for those working hard to effectively allocate the limited vaccine supply. With H1N1 vaccine availability increasing, the priority groups were expanded. By mid-December, availability again expanded. Health departments issued news releases urging everyone to get the H1N1 flu vaccination. The crisis was over.

The flu pandemic response in Dormant is based, in part, on my experiences during the H1N1 outbreak.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing to ponder the profound affect that such incredibly microscopic DNA and RNA copying machines have had on the course of human history. To think that we all carry snippets of viral DNA in our genomes is phenomenal!