The H1N1 cock-up

By Stephen Rhodes

It’s hard to imagine a more complete cock-up than the rollout of the H1N1 vaccine.

First, there was year-long campaign The Pandemic is Coming. Chicken Little, in scrubs, paraded on national television, warning about the dire consequencies of a pandemic.

And not much happened.

Over the summer it started all over again, withThe Pandemic is Really Coming, honest,  and you need to be vaccinated.

Canadians were largely ambivalent until Evan Frustaglio, a 13-year-old hockey player from Toronto,  died on the eve of the H1N1 vaccine becoming available. Demand for the vaccine jumped overnight, catching health officials by surprise. I guess they didn’t believe their own clippings.

Flu/H1N1 Vaccine concept @ Home, Toronto - Ontario (Sept 26th, 2Suddenly there was a shortage of vaccine and only high risk candidates could be vaccinated.

About 4,000 people die in Canada every year from seasonal flu.

“By the time all the dust has settled on H1N1, somewhere between 200 and 300 people will have died in this country,” says Dr. Richard Schabas, chief medical officer of health for Hastings and Prince Edward Counties in eastern Ontario. who was interviewed on CBC News The National last week. He says public health officials and journalists have overstated the importance of the swine flu.

Either way, the challenge for health officials will be to convince a growing number of skeptics about the importance of the H1N1 flu shot.

If the public-relations effort to this point is an indication of what’s to come, we are in for a long winter. Worse, health officials have lost public confidence and their seemingly ad hoc approach to communications, and mixed messages, aren’t helping.

Panic is driving the bus because there is not enough information, and I don’t mean daily media reports about the latest screwup, to make an informed decision.

Communications strategy? Apparently not.

What do you think?

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