The shortage of flu vaccine [front page, Oct. 7], gave a preview of possible coming attractions. What if we have a bioterrorism attack, and the total population needs immunization?
The Giant Food store on Arlington Road in Bethesda was giving flu shots from 2 to 8 p.m. that day. I got there at 11:30 a.m. Cars were lined up waiting to get into the lot. I wasted an hour inching through the lot and garage and finally had to give up. I ultimately found a pay lot, several blocks away, that had a space.
I waited in line outside the door for about an hour and was finally given a number, C44, which meant 344. I am 83 years old, and I was exhausted. The kind man giving out the numbers told me to come back in two hours. I was afraid to give up my parking space. The store was a scene from "Les Miserables." Hundreds of old, frail people in wheelchairs and rolling walkers with seats -- these were the lucky ones -- and others barely ambulatory were sitting on any possible object: windowsills, steps, milk crates and the floor.
I limped out, retrieved my car, went home, rested, had lunch and took a cab back -- knowing there was no parking. I got there at 2 p.m. to begin the long wait. There were twice as many people as before, some with numbers in the Gs (meaning 700s), sitting anyplace or just standing. I was sitting on the cement steps outside when a woman came by; she couldn't wait, and gave me her ticket: B25! I gave my C44 to a weary woman who was hanging on to a walker and her G83 stub.
I waited. I was exhausted but determined. And so lucky: At 4:30 I got my shot! Two and one half hours to give 125 shots. Then I got a cab and went home; by this time it was almost 6 p.m. I am lucky I can afford cab fare. A friend, accompanied by her husband in a wheelchair, had a G number. She gave up at 7 p.m. and went home, totally worn out.
This was the situation with only seniors there. What if the entire population had to get immunized? What preparations have been made? What about the uninsured? Would they be turned away? I worry that someone with a gun would come and demand to go to the head of the line.
We need a national health care plan. We need our government to take charge of manufacturing and distributing enough vaccine for all. And we need to make sure that there are enough medical facilities to handle a disaster.
I am a resident of Leisure World of Maryland, a community of about 10,000 seniors. Like most who live here, I am, as a consequence of age, chronic disorders and medication, a "high-risk" candidate for flu vaccine. I receive my health care from the medical center here.
I went there for my vaccination and learned that, because of the Chiron vaccine withdrawal, there would be none available this year. I was instructed to go to a local supermarket to obtain it. When I arrived at the store, I found a line -- consisting of people of all ages -- snaking though all the aisles [front page, today]. Despite assurances from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the public would cheerfully comply with the recommendation that the vaccine be limited to high-risk individuals, I saw no one being turned away or leaving voluntarily. After half an hour, I left (as did many other elderly people), because I was unable to continue standing. I have three questions:
* What emergency measures will be taken in the next few weeks to protect the lives of the millions at high risk of complications from the flu? If, as predicted, this winter will be long and severe, voluntary restrictions on flu shots obviously (and predictably) will not work.
* Who has been responsible for this act of terrorism against the American public? The pharmaceutical companies that manufactured vaccine in the past have been discontinuing their production in recent years; there was a serious shortage last year and, since then, only two manufacturers continued production, affording no buffer against a predictable risk. Who are the culprits? The pharmaceutical industry, government regulators, our legislators or a combination?
* What will be done to protect us next year from a recurrence of this tragic misfeasance?