Friday, October 30, 2009

H1N1 communications re-visited

Another quick piece on H1N1 communications ... Heard Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health on the radio this morning. She did a great job putting things into perspective re: priority lists for vaccinations, supply issues and the such. That went great.

But listening to her and after weeks, if not months, of warnings and preparations by public health officials, I still can't fathom why they were not ready for the great lineups experienced at all vaccination clinics across Ontario this week.

It seems that they were totally unprepared for the scope of the public's response to the pandemic, especially after the reported deaths of teens who succumbed from the flu. Seems pretty evident that they committed the sin of putting too much stock into their own risk analysis and did not pay enough attention to public perception.

We should never forget this mantra as emergency management professionals: what we think of as risks and how we quantify them could be, and very often is, very different from what the public perceives as risks or the severity of that perceived risk.

Is there a better way for public health officials to get a more accurate feel (or pulse !!!) of what the public is thinking? How nimble does our public health infrastructure need to be to face changing expectations from the public?

I think a lot of lessons will be learned from the current H1N1 vaccination campaign. One is: don't underestimate the capacity of media coverage and social media buzz to greatly increase the number of people that might show up to get shots. And if they do show up in droves, you should be prepared.

Seems even now that hundreds of people are waiting in line ... and still no plan to make flu clinics work 24/7 for a couple of weeks ... a bit short-sighted perhaps ?

1 comment:

  1. From a local planning perspective, which in the US, where most of the planning has been shunted, the problem isn't that they are opposed to opening 24 hour PODs, or clinics. The problem is one of supply. Health Departments are opening clinics and finding they have to close them, and cancel the rest of those scheduled, because they've ran through all of their vaccine in just a few hours.

    The real problem is that local health departments were promised 10s of millions of more courses than they've received and are trying to distribute what little they've got equitably, all the while dealing with a media and social media infrastructure that is very interested in seeing the vaccine distributed.

    It's an intractable position, unfortunately.