Governments Use Facebook for H1N1 Flu Prevention

Facebook has been a useful and cost effective aid to health departments of all sizes to get the word out about H1N1 vaccinations this flu season, especially during the economic downturn when many faced slashed budgets and staff shortages.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials said in December that with lower staffing levels and funding, health departments across the country saw Facebook and other social media “as a quick and inexpensive way to communicate with residents” about the flu.

Specifically the association said such tools have been particularly useful in reaching 18 to 24 year-olds, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list as a priority group for the H1N1 vaccination. To illustrate the success of such tools the association pointed to an immunization drive by county officials at Howard County Community College in Maryland where 2,500 young adults were given the H1N1 vaccine in two days after a Facebook and social media campaign.

As an arm of the U.S. government the CDC has been active on Facebook in getting the word out about H1N1 prevention and immunization, state and county health departments have also, and the Canadian government launched a particularly useful application to educate Facebook users about the flu response there.

Canada’s Public Health Agency has a Facebook page with about 1,900 fans and tons of information about H1N1, how to prevent it and how to get it. The interactive application, “Public Health Agency’s H1N1 Information Centre,” is essentially a manual that answers every conceivable question about the flu.

Another app developed in the U.S., “I’m a Flu Fighter!” was created in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and researchers at Children’s Hospital in Boston. It’s a pretty simple way of sharing with your Facebook friends whether, and how, you received a flu vaccine. If you need one the app helps you find a vaccination location near to you using Google Maps, but it offers users little else in terms of information.

Comparable to Canada’s page, the U.S.’s Department of Health and Human Services’ Facebook page has 3,600 fans, flu information in six languages, videos, information for seniors, news stories about vaccination and links to health departments all over the country. There’s a lot of information, but it’s not as accessible or easy to use as Canada’s app.

Other Facebook pages for county and state health departments essentially provided the same information, sometimes including event information for flu clinics, sometimes using mobile text notifications, and always linking to news stories and health guides pertaining to the flu.

According to the CDC it’s currently flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, which will peak in February and taper off in March. The H1N1 flu first hit the international scene last year when it was labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization and found to be more lethal for younger and older people.