No Luck Finding an H1N1 Flu Shot? You’re Not Alone

Only 34 percent of parents seeking vaccine for kids found it.

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If you've been frustrated in trying to get your kids vaccinated against H1N1 flu, you're not alone: Two thirds of parents who have sought vaccine for their children have failed to find it, according to a Harvard School of Public Health survey out today. That's no small deal, because 41 percent of the parents polled said they have tried to get their children vaccinated against swine flu. Hearing that big Wall Street firms Goldman Sachs and Citigroup got H1N1 vaccine doesn't do much to reassure worried parents that the system is directing vaccine to the kids who need it the most. Although almost 36 million doses of H1N1 vaccine have been distributed, many parents are still anxiously waiting.

My area is typical. At present there's no H1N1 vaccine to be found through the county health department, and school clinics have been canceled for lack of vaccine. I was able to get FluMist for my child at a county clinic in mid-October, even though she doesn't have asthma or other chronic health problems that would have put her at greater risk of complications. All children and young adults from 6 months old to 24 years are a priority group for H1N1 vaccine because they have little or no immunity to this flu virus. But in hindsight, I wish the county had been stricter with those first vaccine clinics and restricted them only to pregnant women and children who are at greater risk than mine.

The flap over Wall Streeters getting H1N1 vaccine may have speeded up that process. Even though Goldman Sachs just got 200 doses of vaccine for employees in high-risk groups and Citigroup got 1,200, the sense that Wall Street fat cats got vaccine while children go without hasn't gone unnoticed. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent out a letter yesterday reminding vaccine distributors to get H1N1 vaccines to high-risk groups first. "I ask each of you to review your plans immediately and work to ensure that the maximum number of doses is delivered to those at greatest risk as rapidly as possible," he said.

That would be nice. Half of people trying to find out where and when they could get H1N1 vaccine weren't able to, according to the Harvard survey. Puh-leez, public health folks! You've been training for pandemic vaccine distribution for years. The least you can do is let us know, in real time, where the vaccine is and how we can get it.

If you're seeking H1N1 vaccine, here are four strategies to make the vaccine search simpler:

1. Check your county health department's website and call the county flu hotline. My county health department updates its H1N1 vaccine availability site often, and a live person answers the phone when you call. Some, like Fairfax County, Va., even let you follow the H1N1 vaccine supply with the county's RSS, Twitter, and Facebook feeds. The federal government's site can point you to state and county health department websites.

2. See if your local school system is offering vaccine clinics. Many have been canceled for lack of supply, but they'll get cranked up again as stocks increase later in November. Look for a dedicated Web page or hotline number for updates.

3. Become the new best friend of the receptionist in your pediatrician's office. These people have had a rough few weeks, besieged both by parents trying to get H1N1 vaccine and kids sick with the usual strep throat and earaches. They deserve some love. And since pediatricians will be getting more vaccine in the weeks to come, you need to stay in touch. Ask if the office is keeping a list of high-priority patients so you don't have to keep calling.

4. Shop around. Vaccine distribution is spotty, and you might strike gold at the health department in a nearby county. While Montgomery County, Md., where I live, is currently offering vaccine only to pregnant women, Fairfax County, Va., just across the Potomac River, is holding an H1N1 vaccine clinic for children on Saturday to hand out 12,000 doses. Walk-in pharmacy clinics and large medical practices also may have vaccine when your doctor does not.

If you've had luck finding H1N1 flu vaccine, please share your success in the comments! Your strategy could help other parents whose kids really need the vaccine or spare others hours waiting in line.