ATLANTA — When the nation's swine flu vaccination program began in early October, health officials predicted it was going to be "messy." They were right.
The program has been plagued with problems and information gaps:
* Health officials have been terrible at predicting when and how much vaccine would be available. Only about 44 million doses have been shipped so far. Initially, officials said more than three times that would be out by now.
* At times vaccine shipments have been inexplicably lopsided. For example, smaller counties in Illinois and California have received the same amount as counties with seven times as many people.
* Health officials have stressed that people most at risk for swine flu complications should go to the head of the line, but they haven't tried to make sure that actually happened.
* And despite pledges that they would be transparent about the vaccine program, some health officials have refused to disclose where all the doses are going, and they have held back on public service announcements telling people who should be coming in for shots.
To be fair, health officials say, the government deserves credit for a herculean effort to develop and distribute a safe and effective vaccine against a deadly virus that was first identified seven months ago.
"You have a brand-new disease that gets identified in April. By October, you have a vaccine for it. By any standards, it's a miracle," said Diane Helentjaris, director of the Virginia Department of Health office handling swine flu response.