Could How it’s handled be the biggest H1N1 Related Disaster?

As I probably don’t have to tell you the buzz and discussion around H1N1, and more so the vaccine for H1N1, has been at an all time high the past few weeks. I know we’ve had the “get it / don’t get it” debate many times in our house over the past week and we continue bouncing back and forth.

What concerns me right now, more than the vaccine themselves, is the system which many Ontario municipalities have chosen to distribute them through: Centralized, first come first served, clinics. But, when you have a population in fear, thanks to a frenzy whipping tag-team of the government and mass media, with a limited suppl of the vaccine this approach can only spell disaster.

Already the early signs are not good. Toronto opened their first clinics today:

Just fifteen minutes after opening to the public at noon Thursday, the North York Clinic was forced to close the line due to overwhelming demand, turning away scores of people who showed up to get their H1N1 vaccination.

Huge lineups were also reported at the East York Civic Centre, prompting officials there to open the doors at 9am instead of noon.

“Our priority and our intention was that we would do health care workers from 9am until 12, following that we are dealing with people who are in the high-priority groups … that includes pregnant women, children five years and under, and those with chronic illness,” Joanne Cameron of Toronto Public Health explained at the East York Civic Centre.

Source: CityTv News

And closer to home:

It was a turnout that no one expected, as more than 3,500 people came out for the region’s first H1N1 vaccination clinic on Wednesday at the Halton Regional Centre.

The site was closed to additional members of the public at 6:45 p.m. While the clinic was intended to remain open until 8 p.m., the last shot was administered at approximately 12:40 a.m.

Source: Burlington Post

Here’s the thing that makes me scratch my head. The government is worried because this is a highly contagious virus – I’ve seen quotes from the federal health minister suggesting the concern that upwards of 30% of the population could catch H1N1 during the course of this flu season (which would be economically devastating).

With that in mind, I can’t even begin to fathom why anyone at any level of government thought the best course of action was to create central bottlenecks to distribute the vaccine through.

h1n1_clinic_line

Think about it, every person standing in line has not been vaccinated yet – they’re all vulnerable. Better yet, the early clinics have been intended for the “high risk” groups, so not only have they gathered large groups in one place for hours, it’s the people who can least afford the risk being made to stand around for hours, and often outside in the cold which probably isn’t helping their health either.

Highly Contagious Virus + People in high risk Category + Crowding together for hours on end = recipe for disaster.

Maybe they’ll get lucky and none of the people in line are already sick, and maybe no showing signs yet, but then again maybe not.

A Better Way?

At the end of the day, there’s really no excuse for this. It’s not the first time the government or municipalities have had to handle large crowds. I also get there are benefits to centrally distributing the vaccine – but massive line-ups and crowds are not the only option.

I can think of a few ways to keep clinics accessible – for example: Create a reception desk (just like they’ve done in the Service Ontario offices) and some # wristbands or one of those “Take a Number” machines. Give each person a tag, and then give them a time block that those wristbands will be seen, then tell them to come back then. Also, use this reception desk for front-line screening – watch for people who already appear ill, weed them out of the line early and deal with them.

I mean, this isn’t rocket science and it’s not like H1N1 is a sudden surprise – I’m honestly really dissapointed with what I’m seeing so far, unfortunately I’ve come to expect nothing less from our government(s).

Keep informed

Already the hashtag #TOfluline has emerged as a common tag where people are posting updates on their line experiences. I’m sure others will emerge in other municipalities too, also check in within Toronto Public Health or your local municipality site. Many municipalities also have the 311 service now that you can call to get information on any municipal service.

Lastly, don’t forget Telehealth – they really should be your first call if you get sick and have concerns or questions, it’s been widely reported that ER’s are overcrowded and don’t want everyone with the flu coming down unless it’s a true emergency – you’re just putting yourself and others at risk.

(Home Page Article Icon by Phil Romans)