Wednesday, November 25, 2009

H1N1 in France, A Shaky Start

In France, the vaccination program for the H1N1 influenza virus is just taking off but the program is looking a bit shaky. The government has developed a plan where the next wave of vaccinations will be given to school children. Students and pupils will be served by mobile vaccination units going to the primary and secondary schools starting today. However, parents have the option of agreeing or not agreeing to have their kids get shots. Households with children in school received letters from the Ministry of Health asking if they agreed to the shots, and, if you were to believe the newspapers, many it would appear, are choosing not to. The evidence for this is in “man-and-women-in-the-street” interviews published, for example, in yesterday’s Le Parisien. Five out of the six people who were quoted said they were not going to sign the approval forms saying they didn’t “trust the vaccine.”

That story is in contrast to the scenes at the vaccination centers in Paris reported in today’s Figaro, the demand for vaccination is creating long lines and frustration. “There is total disorganization” complained one patient, described as a diabetic who had tried several times to get a vaccination. The reporting describes long waits, appointment systems breaking down, vaccine deliveries not made and, above all, the staffing appears to be insufficient to meet demand.

The system was structured to depend on volunteers to help administer the vaccine and both their numbers and training are being criticized. This is reported in the general dailies and on television as well as via specialized news outlets like Quotidien du Medicin, a daily newspaper for physicians. In their coverage the failure to involve physicians and their practices early on in the process is cited as one of the failures.

Le Monde is a bit more restrained in its reporting, they are focusing on the numbers: 605,000 vaccinated by the evening of the 21st with 65,000 people coming into the 1,060 centers each day in the last week

The media reporting has become rather negative about the vaccination campaign. It may be that the system is experiencing teething problems in its early days but the ground is being laid for a general sense that the program is not being run well. The coming week will be a real test for the organization of the programs—and the patience of the citizenry.

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