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Figures show H1N1 flu shots didn’t always reach needy

By The Associated Press Modified: March 19, 2010 at 4:19 am •  Published: March 19, 2010
ATLANTA — Last fall, as swine flu cases mounted and parents desperately sought to protect their kids, the hard-to-get vaccine was handed out in some surprising places: the Royal Caribbean cruise line, the headquarters of drug giant Merck, the Johnson Space Center and a Department of Energy office in Idaho.

In some cases, financial institutions and other recipients got doses before some county health departments and doctors’ offices, according to records obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Even though the government spent more than $1.6 billion for the vaccine, no complete record exists of where it went.

A partial picture emerges in thousands of pages provided to the AP.

To be fair, at least 85 percent of the doses given in the first six weeks went to groups most at risk for flu complications — children and other young people, pregnant women and those with certain health problems, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wall Street banks and cruise ship companies accounted for a tiny fraction of the 30,000 or so sites sent vaccine in those desperate early days.

"It was a remarkable logistical success,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said. "As with many things in public health, the things that work really well, nobody notices.”

It’s clear that at many sites, lower-risk people got precious doses in the first two months:

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