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Rockville clinic runs short of flu shots as area schools report rise in absences

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scores of people seeking H1N1 flu vaccinations were turned away from a Rockville clinic yesterday after the facility quickly ran through its supply of injectable vaccine.

By 10:15 a.m., 75 minutes after the Piccard Drive Health Center opened, officials announced that they had used up their 249 doses of injectable vaccine, and disappointed parents began to leave. Officials had plenty of nasal mist vaccine, but pregnant women, children younger than 2 and people with underlying medical conditions cannot use it.

In all, about 1,560 people were vaccinated, officials said.

Janet McCormick of Loudoun County waited for more than three hours but did not get a shot for her or her family. She and her cousin are pregnant, and McCormick's 3-year-old son is asthmatic.

"I'm just scared," she said. "I'm doing everything I can to get the vaccine. I'm not angry, because there's more of a demand than a supply. So just put your best effort forth to protect yourself and your kids."

"It's Disneyland," said Ann Marie O'Connor of Bethesda as she traversed a series of switchbacks in the line. The message, she said, has been "get vaccinated, get vaccinated. And you can't. . . . This is good proof something needs to be done quicker."

There have been cancellations in some communities, but health officials said they will open clinics Thursday as planned in the District and Prince George's County. For a list of locations, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/flu_shots.html. Vaccinations at schools also are beginning as a number of elementary and secondary schools reported a gradual increase in student absences that officials suspect are related to outbreaks of swine flu.

State and local officials said the trend is clear, if not dramatic. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said there have been flu outbreaks in 96 public schools, 59 of them in the Baltimore area, since September. Seven public schools in Montgomery and Prince George's have reported outbreaks.

"It's nothing outrageous, but it's definitely an uptick," said Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier. Absences are up from a systemwide average of 3.8 percent Oct. 2 to 6.4 percent at the end of last week.

Nationwide, there were 198 flu-related school closures in 15 states, including Maryland, affecting 65,000 students, the Education Department said Wednesday. That's up from 88 closures, affecting 28,000 students, a day earlier.

At the Rockville clinic, Florence Campi of Silver Spring and her husband, Morris, waited more than three hours before they were turned away. They were told that they were too old for the nasal mist, which has a cutoff age of 49.

They are helping care for a young grandchild, and another is on the way within days.

"My one little grandson is being born next week, and I'm concerned about him," Florence Campi said.

"It's poor planning. I'm not happy with the whole situation," Morris Campi said.

As an alert crowd watched, health workers lugged in an additional 2,000 doses of vaccine in plastic foam containers, prompting an urgent query that just a few days ago might have made no sense: "Is that the injectable?"

It wasn't. Vaccinators were getting a new supply of nasal mist to keep the queue inching ahead.

The vaccine is taking longer than expected to produce, and word of scarce supplies across the region and nation seemed to fuel the crowd. "A shortage brings people out," said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services.

At the noon closing time, some people were getting punchy, with hundreds still hoping to get at least part of what they came for.

"It's awesome," said Melissa Bonier of Silver Spring. "I was thinking, 'What I could do today is be 39 weeks pregnant and take the 3-year-old out in the sun for hours and have no shots.' "

She added, "I've never been in a line this long with nothing fun at the end of it." Her daughter eventually got the spray, but Bonier said she didn't know what to do about herself. "Hopefully, protecting the 3-year-old will be enough," she said.

Staff writers Michael E. Ruane,

Nick Anderson and Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

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