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Md. health officials urge residents to get now-plentiful swine flu vaccinations

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By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Perhaps the hardest sell in public health today is trying to persuade Americans to get vaccinated for swine flu.

The crowds in Rockville and Greenbelt are gone, and worries have shifted to clearing mountains of snow across the region.

But public health officials have not given up. They've been running television and radio ads in Maryland this month. Big-box stores and pharmacies are stocked across the state. Local health departments are still making H1N1 vaccinations available.

"We've got a lot of vaccine, and it's everywhere," said David Paulson, spokesman for Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

When the number of swine flu cases was soaring, and supplies of shots and nasal mist were scarce, demand for vaccinations was high. Looking ahead during the height of public attention, officials said, they knew the day would come when supply would trump demand. That day has come.

For many people, it comes down to one question: Why bother?

But that's not public health officials' mind-set. Part of their job is to consider worst-case scenarios and to muster whatever attention they can to prevent bad outcomes, even when they seem remote.

So at a recent clinic, Paulson was looking for takers. At a similar event last month, clinicians had brought out 1,000 doses. They used 320.

"We're having a clinic here at the department today, free of charge," he said. "Anybody can come in and get vaccinated."

But why should they?

Paulson said there's no evidence of an increase in swine-flu cases.

"It's not looking like we'll see one, at least at this point," he said. But "that's the danger of having a third peak. That's when it comes back and bites you, and people die."

More than 1 million people in Maryland have been vaccinated. "Is our herd immunity so great right now we won't see that much more H1N1?" Paulson asked.

Health officials say they would usually see a boost in regular flu cases about now. Last year's flu season peaked about the end of February, Paulson said.

But they haven't seen that, either.

"We're kind of sitting here scratching our heads, saying, 'Where's the flu, H1N1 or seasonal?' " Paulson said.

For information on where to find the H1N1 vaccine, go to http://www.dhmh.state.md.us/swineflu.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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