With abundant supplies of vaccine and fewer, milder cases of H1N1 than expected, county health departments are continuing to immunize people, including second doses for children. The departments also are upgrading their infrastructure for future challenges, taking advantage of a rare fully financed federal program aimed both at combating H1N1 and enhancing local preparedness. "This is the first time I can remember where we were given a situation to deal with and adequate funding," says St. Joseph County Health Department administrator Nick Molchan, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the field. Among other things, the department has bought commercial-grade immunization refrigerators for both the South Bend and Mishawaka offices and upgraded its computer system with new computers. The latest count, early this month, showed that 52,000 people have been immunized in St. Joseph County. Vaccines have been plentiful since mid-December, and health department workers have been going into schools to provide shots. The free shots are available at both health department locations during ordinary business hours. In addition, state workers will give shots at the South Bend Regional Airport from 8 a.m. today through Friday. State officials, using computerized records, also plan to send reminders to parents of children 9 and younger who were vaccinated but have not received their second dose. While last year’s fears of deadly pandemic have faded, health officials are eager to immunize as many people as possible. Molchan says state officials recently drew parallels with a 1957-1958 flu that came in three waves – spring, back-to-school, and late winter the following year. "The caution was ‘Keep getting the vaccine into people because there could be a third wave,’" he says. "Right now, we’ve got plenty of vaccine. Any provider can get as much as they want. "The places that were hit harder in the spring had less problems with it in the fall. The places it didn’t get into that much before school let out were hit harder in the fall. It became apparent that it was a mild form of influenza for most of the people that got H1N1. They weren’t certain how virulent this H1N1 strain would be to the public. It has not mutated and gone any more virulent." Although a high percentage of tests for people with flu-like symptoms reveal H1N1, the costly test is not always administered because the result does affect treatment. "You’re basically treating the symptoms anyway," Molchan says. "It doesn’t matter if that person has H1N1 or a B-type influenza strain or another A-type influenza strain. It has slowed down, the number of cases that are being reported." The better-safe-than-sorry approach has protected health now and provided for stronger response in the future. "Unfortunately, when these new diseases come out and you start seeing them, you don’t know how quickly medical science is going to be able to adapt something that can help take care of it," Molchan says. "You never know when and if it could mutate. You never know when it’s the end. We’re going to continue to do it as long as the state says, ‘You have the vaccine.’"