COVID-19 vaccine challenges resemble what health care workers faced with H1N1 pandemic

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DENVER (KDVR) — As health care workers learn more about how the COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out in Colorado, some are reminded of the challenges they faced during the H1N1 flu pandemic more than a decade earlier.

“We didn’t know when we were going to get it, we didn’t know how much we were going to get and then we didn’t know who would actually take the vaccine if they received the shipments,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of Infection Prevention at UCHealth.

Barron says in 2009, there were plenty of unknowns leading up to the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine. Initial supplies for the vaccine were limited, meaning only those considered “high-risk,” like children and young people, received it at first. 

The first doses of the H1N1 vaccine were administered in early October 2009. A 2010 brief from the Colorado State Legislature shows Colorado initially received about 250,000 doses of the vaccine. By the end of 2009, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had distributed more than 1 million doses to county health departments and other providers. By the time the vaccine was widely available, case numbers were declining.

Barron says much like today, some people lacked trust in the H1N1 vaccine.

“Because of the timeframe in which it was done, there was a lot of skepticism about whether corners had been cut and if they were really following through with all of the normal processes,” said Barron.

Barron points out the urgency surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is much greater than in 2009.

“Vaccinating for H1N1 was in some way to lower the caseload but it wasn’t meant to be so we could start living our life again. This is just going to be a much longer process to get there,” said Barron.

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