RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Last year it caused panic and fear across the world and caused nearly 20,000 deaths, but now in a few short months later, world health leaders have declared the H1-N1 flu pandemic over. Dr. Karen Remley is Virginia's Commissioner of Health and oversaw the state's response to the outbreak.
Ryan Nobles: I was there when Governor Kaine called the official press conference to announce H1-N1 had come here to Virginia. Looking back at where you were at that time, were you confident the state was going to be able to handle everything this pandemic threw at us.
Dr. Karen Remley: Actually I was. We had engaged in planning for many years both within the Health Department but beyond that to the hospitals, doctors, and I really think it was an opportunity to not only respond but to practice. As you can remember, we didn't know how bad it was going to be, and we still don't know whether we will have a more severe flu or avian flu. It was a great opportunity to test everything we had ever put in place.
Ryan Nobles: You were on TV constantly, doing sometimes daily media briefings, but there was really only so much government can do. How much was this the responsibility of everyday Virginians to take action to prevent this from becoming a real serious problem?
Dr. Karen Remley: It was every day Virginians and every doctor and nurse in the state. I'm very proud to say the CDC looked at immunization rates around the country, and in the first seven weeks, Virginia was half again as good as the rest of the country. Half again higher than the national average for vaccination. That was a combination of the Health Department getting it out to people and people understanding they did need to get vaccinated and doctors and nurses making sure they were giving vaccines to people.
Ryan Nobles: That was a challenge as well, because you aren't just dealing with what the swine flu could become, but people were very suspect with the vaccine as well. You had to be one of the spokespeople to say this is safe, it's okay, and you should do it.
Dr. Karen Remley: The vaccine was made the exact same way the seasonal flu is made. We had people who wanted vaccine and we didn't have enough, people standing at the door, and then we had people who said, 'heck, no, I'm not going to get it.' We worked very close to. That we had a center that answered over 18,000 phone calls, and thousands and thousands of e-mails specifically addressing those types of issues with the people in Virginia.
Ryan Nobles: My last question for you, obviously the swine flu pandemic is over with, but this doesn't mean the flu and different varieties of flu are still not going to be something that people have to keep an eye on.
Dr. Karen Remley: Correct. And we're still seeing H1-N1 or swine flu in New Zealand and they still have a lot of cases in Indiana. They still have a lot of cases. We know the world is global and we exchange viruses back and forth. This year's seasonal flu vaccine, just now coming in coming into doctor's offices and stores, will include the H1-N1 strain of influenza and another Type A strain and Type B strain. So I encourage everybody, anyone over six months of age could get a flu vaccine.
Ryan Nobles: And if everything goes well, we won't see you on TV nearly as much as last year.
Dr. Karen Remley: That would be fine with me.
Ryan Nobles: Thank you very much.
See the video at right for the full interview.