The large-scale deployment of antiviral drugs from the Strategic National Stockpile during the 2009 H1N1 influenza response provides a unique opportunity to study local public health implementation of the medical countermeasure dispensing capability in a prolonged event of national significance. This study aims to describe the range of methods used by local health departments (LHDs) in California to manage antiviral activities and to gain a better understanding of the related challenges experienced by health departments and their community partners.
This research employed a mixed-methods approach. First, a multi-disciplinary focus group of pandemic influenza planners from key stakeholder groups in California was convened in order to generate ideas and identify critical themes related to the local implementation of antiviral activities during the H1N1 influenza response. These qualitative data informed the development of a web-based survey, which was distributed to all 61 LHDs in California for the purpose of assessing the experiences of a representative sample of local health agencies in a large region.
Forty-four LHDs participated in this study, representing 72% of the local public health agencies in California. While most communities dispensed a modest number of publicly purchased antivirals, LHDs nevertheless drew on their previous work and engaged in a number of antiviral activities, including: acquiring, allocating, distributing, dispensing, tracking, developing guidance, and communicating to the public and clinical community. LHDs also identified specific antiviral challenges presented by the H1N1 pandemic, including: reconciling multiple sources and versions of antiviral guidance, determining appropriate uses and recipients of publicly purchased antivirals, and staffing shortages.
The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic presented an unusual opportunity to learn about the role of local public health in the management of antiviral response activities during a real public health emergency. Results of this study offer an important descriptive account of LHD management of publicly purchased antivirals, and provide practitioners, policy makers, and academics with a practice-based assessment of these events. The issues raised and the challenges faced by LHDs should be leveraged to inform public health planning for future pandemics and other emergency events that require medical countermeasure dispensing activities.
Keywords: Public health preparedness and response, Public health systems research, Influenza