On Aug. 10, the World Health Organization officially declared the H1N1 pandemic over. On a global scale, this means that—with the exception of India and New Zealand—H1N1 activity has largely subsided and no major outbreaks have recently occurred.
Local health departments, who began to scale back their H1N1 response several months ago, are still being advised to be vigilant—particularly among those in high risk groups. Healthcare providers have also been alerted to recent cases of seasonal influenza in the United States.
This year, the new vaccine will contain three strains of influenza virus, including the H1N1 strain. With the high rates of vaccination seen during last year’s influenza season, there is hope that more people will roll up their sleeves for flu vaccination this year.
What did local health departments learn during last year’s influenza season and pandemic response? The following are some of the themes that were drawn from our stories from the field, policy workshop with members, surveys of local health departments, and a sharing session at the NACCHO Annual conference in Memphis this past July:
- Partnerships were essential to sharing limited resources, particularly in light of the recent major budget cuts at the local public health level. Coordination with emergency first responders, healthcare providers, volunteers and Medical Reserve Corps Units, community organizations, service organizations, faith communities, and media outlets can help with coordination of messaging to the public.
- Volunteers were essential in filling gaps in need. Several local health officials mentioned the need for support for volunteers during the H1N1 sharing session at NACCHO Annual.
- Communications and outreach need to be tailored to reach underserved or minority populations. In some instances, outreach was more effective when community organizations were involved in reaching out to ethnic or minority groups.
- Rapid and accurate surveillance and information is essential to any pandemic response effort.
- Improvements to vaccine production technology will boost the nation’s capacity to respond. The government is continuing to invest in cell-based vaccine production, which could produce vaccine at a much faster pace than the traditional mode of production using eggs.
- Accreditation can be a useful tool in adequately preparing health departments for emergencies and crises. The North Carolina Institute of Public Health found that accredited health departments in the state were able to react more quickly to the pandemic than non-accredited health departments.
- Call centers and social media tools can help to boost communications efforts and reach wider audiences than traditional modes of communication. Several LHDs and federal agencies used social media to reach younger audiences who may not be picking up brochures.
Thank you very much to our readership for their interest, submissions, comments, and participation in the NACCHO H1N1 Blog. We will be closing this blog on Aug. 31, 2010. We have learned enormously from our community of members and partners. We have appreciated the opportunity to share in your experience by telling your stories about overcoming obstacles and challenges.