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Marketing Used to Push Vaccine, Fight Swine Flu 'Fatigue'

5:19 PM, Feb 19, 2010   |    comments
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RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) - Marco Torres stood on a busy road and waved an oversized yellow arrow with an unconventional message for a street marketing campaign: "FREE TODAY: H1N1 Flu Shots for All."

Local health officials launched the human billboard campaign at a time when health departments around the country are going to great lengths to spread the word that swine flu vaccines are in abundant supply and available for free to anyone who wants one.

Their advertising tactics include horseback banners at rodeos and wristbands handed out at nightclubs. Maine officials set up a flu clinic at the high school basketball playoffs this week, while other health departments are giving patients shots at airports, malls and even a trade show.

The fact that clinics are practically begging people to get vaccinated is a dramatic shift from just a few months ago when people stood in long lines and waited - sometimes for hours - to get the scarce vaccine.

While the outbreak has waned, the virus is still circulating and authorities warn that another wave of infections could hit. The 2009 H1N1 flu strain was first identified in April and a second wave of infections followed in the fall. At least 15,000 people have died worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, most of those in the U.S.

Since October, some 126 million vaccine doses have been shipped to states, but only about 75 million Americans have been vaccinated. The federal government has spent $1.6 billion on swine flu vaccine production.

In the past, doctors and other providers were able to return unused doses to vaccine makers and get reimbursed. That's not the case this year since the government bought the vaccines and distributed them free to states. Federal health officials are working out a plan to deal with leftover doses, though some local health departments have said they planned to throw away expired ones.

"The efforts need to be made to encourage people to get vaccinated. It is still a serious disease," said Robert Pestronk, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

USA Today

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