Half of doses on hand used at H1N1 clinics

By Michael Laris
Sunday, October 25, 2009

On the day President Obama declared swine flu a national emergency, Kathryn Diamond did a sun salutation and blew bubbles in the vaccine line near Georgetown.

"I've had the flu. You barf a little, you cough a little, and it's over. But since people have died from swine, I might as well get vaccinated," said Kathryn, 12.

By Saturday afternoon, pregnant kindergarten teacher Tonianne Hall walked straight into the Fairfax County Government Center for her shot after the thousands who waited outside for hours had cleared out.

"I want to get it, but it's not Armageddon," said Hall, whose school had 110 of its more than 600 students out sick last week. "What are you supposed to do when a kid's hugging you with a fever and cough? You can't push them away."

Officials ramping up immunization efforts in Fairfax and the District on Saturday had 20,000 doses on hand. But despite a national vaccine shortage and a week in which some in the region were turned away, officials used less than half that.

There were at least two explanations. First, to avoid having their scant supplies overwhelmed, officials had limited who was eligible. Second, many in the area seemed content to add a little Zen to their vaccination acquisition efforts.

Saturday started with a sense of urgency.

At 9:12 a.m., the first bit of movement came to a line that circled the Fairfax government building, angled back and forth through a packed parking lot, and stretched down a side street.

Vaccine distribution has been spotty across the region and nationwide because production has been slower than expected. An overrun clinic in Rockville immunized about 1,500 people last week. At one point midday Saturday, Fairfax officials did about 900 an hour using 70 vaccinators.

There were scattered overnight campers. But a more typical arrival time for the particularly eager was 5:45 a.m., which is when Matt Tavares got in line in the breezy morning darkness for his 2 1/2-year-old asthmatic son, Billy. He's already thinking about next time. Children younger than 10 have to get a second shot.

"Hopefully, by the time these children need the second dose, it'll be more available," Tavares said. "I don't know if I want to do this again another month from now. It could be a little colder."

Local health officials said they expect enough vaccine by then.

More than 200 people were lined up before Saturday's opening of the Hardy Middle School clinic off Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington, one of four locations open that officials said could each handle about 2,000 people. The clinics were reserved for pregnant women and people 24 and younger.

Architect Jungmin Lee has remained relatively relaxed about the inching national rollout. His wife was more urgent, and he left his Adams Morgan home at 3:40 a.m. to get in line for their 13-month-old daughter. "You just can't produce massive numbers of doses at once, so I wouldn't complain too much," he said.

By closing, 1,025 people were vaccinated there, with 1,240 farther up Wisconsin at Wilson High. Totals in less-affluent areas lagged, with 584 at Coolidge in Brightwood and 525 at McKinley in Northeast.

In Fairfax, it took people who arrived early more than three hours to make it through. But the line dropped sharply in the afternoon.

Karen McMahon had been at her second job as a waitress until midnight. "I was working late and just couldn't get up," she said, rolling her stroller right up. "It paid off."

More than 4,300 were covered.

Late in the afternoon, Joe Ersek walked easily into Wilson with his twins. "It kind of fit our schedule right now, so here we are," he said.

By day's end, thousands were immunized, and health officials and many recipients said they were pleased. Of course many, such as McMahon, now have to get others vaccinated. Her two teenage daughters were not eligible in Fairfax, where the cutoff was 3 years old.

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