Hundreds Wait in Line for Swine Flu Vaccine in Montgomery

Montgomery County residents wait to receive outside the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring, where swine flu vaccinations were being distributed on Wednesday.
Montgomery County residents wait to receive outside the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring, where swine flu vaccinations were being distributed on Wednesday. (Michael Laris/The Washington Post)
By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

An overflow crowd converged at a Montgomery County swine flu-shot clinic Wednesday as 1,400 people from the Washington region and beyond sought to get vaccinated.

Residents from as far away as Pennsylvania joined a line that snaked around the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring, where the wait in the chilly air topped two hours.

In the Washington area's jurisdictional mishmash, tracking down times and places to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus has been a challenge for many residents. Some health officials said they were still putting their plans together, and much is in flux as limited supplies of the vaccine have begun to trickle in. Some of the first doses have gone to health-care workers.

The Montgomery clinic was popular because the county is one of the first Washington area jurisdictions to schedule vaccination clinics using not just the nasal spray but also the injection, which can be given to greater numbers of high-risk people, including pregnant women.

Pregnant women, young children and people with chronic health conditions waited in the cold Wednesday with parents, grandparents and nannies. The time spent in the smooth-running queue fostered a sense of community. Dawn Crosby of Gaithersburg ordered a large cheese pizza for her neighbors, which calmed a crying boy nearby and ended her daughter's complaining.

"Everyone's been hanging in just fine. It's been pretty painless," said James McAndrew, who joined the line with his wife and two children at 8:30 a.m. before the clinic opened. "I just think everyone's happy to get it and get peace of mind."

Although there was praise for the operation, which included swift-moving shot-injectors and frequent updates for the shivering and bored, there was also frustration.

"You take a chance of catching the flu just waiting for two hours. That's not smart," said Steve Grossman of North Potomac, who said it was "self-defeating" to keep young people and those like himself with chronic health conditions out in the elements. "It might have been orchestrated in a different way."

Across the region, health officials said their plans for distributing the vaccine will depend on how much of it they get. The District will start clinics next week primarily for school-age children, with dates and places to be announced this week, spokeswoman Dena Iverson said. Some private practices began getting the vaccine this week, she said.

Fairfax County will hold vaccination clinics at public schools Oct. 24 and 25, with plans to cover those 6 months to 18 years old. Walk-ins will be accepted at Fairfax health department offices starting Oct. 26, and the vaccine will initially be given to high-priority groups, officials said.

Montgomery officials said they will try to get out the message that people should brace for significant outdoor stints at future clinics, to be held on Wednesdays through Nov. 18. The county's clinics can't accommodate large numbers of people, and the high schools where vaccinations will be offered at the end of the month have limited space because of other activities. The county's next clinic is Wednesday in Rockville.

"If today's an indication, people will probably have to wait. We had no idea we'd see that many people," said Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for Montgomery's Department of Health and Human Services. Anderson said the county is not seeking people from other jurisdictions to vaccinate, but Montgomery doesn't discriminate based on residency; people don't have to live in the county to get vaccinated there.

About 500 people went to a clinic last week at the Dennis Avenue center, which had only the nasal spray.

"We haven't had a chance to breathe," said Cindy Edwards, the clinic's bullhorn-toting site commander.

They weren't the only ones caught off guard Wednesday.

"I didn't expect what's here, or I would have prepared," said Dan Orbach of Potomac, arms crossed in his thin blue shirt in an attempt to fight the cold.

He was waiting with his two children, ages 15 and 11. "Of course, letting some coffee vendors know about us here would also be a nice thing."

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