H1N1 vaccine may be made available to anyone, as target groups show lack of interest

Earlier this year the Czech government ordered a large amount of swine flu vaccine fearing a large-scale epidemic in the fall. Now the vaccine doses are here, the epidemic is here, but there is not much interest in the vaccine – despite the fact that the people for whom it is intended are mostly high risk. As a third delivery of vaccine arrives, the Czech government is now considering making the vaccine available to anyone who wants it.

For all the hyped anticipation of a massive epidemic of swine flu, there hasn’t been much interest in the newly-developed H1N1 vaccine so far. The government now has a million dozes worth 220 million crowns on its hands, but so far only 50% of potential recipients have accepted it. Dr. Václav Šmatlák, the head of the Association of General Physicians, says it’s not the government that’s to blame.

“The government made a good decision. In the beginning it seemed they had underestimated the amount, because in other countries, for example Hungary, they have more than 6 million doses for the whole nation. But the Czech public is very sceptical towards vaccination, so I think the government did the best they could.”

Critically however, the people who aren’t taking the vaccine are the ones who need it the most. Until now the dosages were only available to high-risk patients – people with chronic heart and respiratory illnesses – and front line doctors. Meanwhile 34 people have died over the last two months, and many of them were indeed high-risk. Aside from common wariness of vaccination however, the prominence given to doctors who themselves have been unwilling to get the shot has added to patients’ reluctance.

“It is only a small group, it’s not true. The media often produces things they think are interesting for the public, so it is very interesting that doctors don’t want to vaccinate themselves. It’s not the truth; it’s a marginal group of doctors, a minority. Most of them do get vaccinations.”

The Health Ministry moreover is worried that the lack of vaccinations will speed up the course of the epidemic. Luckily the opposite has been true for the last two weeks at least, with the number of flu infections dropping despite the lack of interest in the vaccine. The government’s response now to the mounting stocks of H1N1 vaccine will likely be to free them up for anyone who wants them, hoping to ultimately stem the tide of what many believe will be a second, possibly more deadly, epidemic in the spring.