Leader Blues

Saturday, October 31, 2009

TOP STORY >> Thousands get flu shots

Jacksonville kindergartner Alex Moix gets a seasonal flu shot from Brenda Webb, an Arkansas Health Department registered nurse, at the Jacksonville Community Center on Thursday. More than 1,900 people were vaccinated at the clinic.

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Rainy weather that continues to dog the state added another complication to community mass flu clinics already contending with shortages of vaccine for the swine flu. Every county in the state had at least one location where free flu vaccinations were provided. The clinics – 92 in all – opened on Thursday and continued through Friday.

By noon yesterday, 119,851 doses of the seasonal and H1N1vaccine had been given statewide at the mass clinics.

In Jacksonville on Thursday, 1,900 people braved the threat of storms to receive the free vaccine; a total of 2,280 doses of the seasonal and H1N1 vaccine were administered.

A second mass flu clinic is already set for Dec. 5 in Jacksonville to ensure that everyone wanting the H1N1 vaccine will get it.

Yesterday, at the mass clinics in Beebe, 458 doses total of flu vaccine were given, bringing the total doses of vaccine given over a two-day period in White County to 2,177. On Thursday, a mass clinic was held at the Searcy health unit.

By mid-afternoon Friday, the state Health Department had inoculated 1,261 people at Cabot’s Veterans Park Community Center, with about 200 of those receiving both the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 swine flu vaccination, according to Milt Garris, director of the Lonoke County Health Department.

He said there was plenty of vaccine on hand to finish out the clinic, which was slated to run until 5 p.m.

He said they had given the H1N1 vaccine to children from six months to 4 years old, to pregnant women and to people between five and 18 years of age with medical conditions.

“We expect to get more vaccine in to do the school clinics at Cabot on Nov. 4 and Nov.5,” he said.

About a week ago, school clinics were held at Lonoke, where about 800 doses of vaccine were given and at Carlisle, where about 700 doses were given.

The vaccines are being paid for by the newly instituted tobacco tax, he said.

Garris said he didn’t know of the weather interfered with attendance at the clinic. Everyone was able to wait inside, he said.

The clinics at a few locations got off to a “rocky start” on Thursday due to “the combination of bad weather, heavy demand and a limited supply of H1N1 vaccine,” said Paul Halverson, director of the Arkansas Department of Health. “We wish that we would have had sunny skies so that families and children wouldn’t have to have been in damp, cold conditions. We appreciate the public’s patience and understanding as we undertake the largest mass-vaccination effort in the state’s history.”

Jacksonville health unit administrator Patricia Henderson was glad that she decided to move this year’s annual flu clinic to a more spacious location and booked a conference room at Jacksonville Community Center. The past two years, the clinic was held at the local health unit. Last year, the number of people showing up doubled from the year before and cars overflowed the parking lot.

“We just out-grew it, and then with H1N1 coming along, this was the right thing to do,” she said. “The city has been just wonderful, helping us set up, directing people. Nothing I asked for did they not give me.”

When the doors opened at 8 a.m., the line of early birds spread across the parking lot. Some had a wait of up to an hour and a half, but by 11 a.m., “maybe 10 people were in line,” Henderson said. “I think it started like any clinic would start with 300 already lined up, but it went well. No one was turned away.”

Susan Winkler, administrator of the Searcy and Beebe health units, deemed the Beebe clinic a success – a first at that location – but that “at one point it hit pretty hard, with a line out the door and around the building,” but that volunteers kept traffic in the parking lot from turning into a bottleneck.

Winkler called the school and community mass flu clinics “a wonderful thing to provide to the community,” but “the staff gets slammed pretty hard.” Some nurses left the clinic last night “with numb and sore hands from filling out all the paperwork.”

The clinics are not close to done for Health Department staff, Winkler said. With two community and five school clinics behind them, 21 more school clinics – and at least one more community clinic – will occur in White County between now and December, meaning work weeks of 50 to 60 hours. “There has got to be a better way to do this,” she said.

The H1N1 flu vaccine continues to be in short supply nationally, forcing health officials to sharply restrict who gets the vaccine first to those most at risk of severe complications if infected.

“This follows priority group guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said Paul Halverson, director of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). “If we have plenty of vaccine, the recommended priority groups include pregnant women, children ages 6 months through 24 years, health care workers and emergency medical responders, people caring for infants under 6 months of age, and people ages 25-64 years with underlying health conditions.

“If there is limited vaccine, the CDC guidelines for priority groups shift to pregnant women, people caring for infants less than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical responders, children ages 6 months through 4 years and children and adolescents ages 5 through 18 years who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications,” Halverson continued.

But due to the extreme national shortage of H1N1 vaccine, the state Health Department “was forced to further narrow the priority group to pregnant women, children 6 months through 4 years and to those children who are age 5 through18 with underlying medical conditions,” Halverson explained.

Lonoke County resident Malanya Donaho took her son, Gideon, and grandfather, Walter White, to the Jacksonville clinic. Only her son, who is 7 years old, would be getting the H1N1 vaccine.

“He’s got asthma and a bad immune system,” Donaho said. “He got the regular shot yesterday, but they didn’t have the H1N1.

I was afraid to wait. There’s too much of it around. It is kind of scary.”

The ADH expects the supplies of the H1N1 vaccine to increase significantly in the next month. Additional mass-flu clinics will be scheduled so that any Arkansan wanting the H1N1 vaccine can get it. The vaccine will also be distributed to about 900 health care providers.

Meanwhile, health officials advise that everyone get the seasonal flu vaccine; both vaccines are needed to protect against both strains of the flu virus.

Leader staff writer John Hof-heimer contributed to this report.