Flu shot clinic draws frenzied crowd

"The public clinic for flu shots was due to open in Coupeville at 10 a.m. Monday morning. By 9 a.m. there was already a crowd of more than 200 people gathered outside the Community Hall. Inside, health care workers were genuinely concerned. They only had 170 doses to give.People were pushing and shoving and it was a real nightmare, said Trish Rose, Whidbey General Hospital's community relations spokesperson. The flu shot clinic was over in 10 minutes. People who showed up at 10:15 were too late.The Coupeville scene was the first of a series of local influenza vaccine clinics put on by the hospital and the Island County Health Department. It had become first on the list after three previous clinics had to be cancelled due to a delay in vaccine shipments from suppliers. The first shipment, which was originally due in October just arrived on Whidbey last week.With the brunt of flu season about to hit in January, local public health officials have become greatly concerned that seniors and other high risk people may not get their vaccinations in time. The officials are also frustrated with decisions made by the vaccine manufacturer, Wyeth Vaccines of Pennsylvania, to give the same shipping priority to for-profit businesses such as supermarkets as to non-profit public health agencies. That's despite earlier assurances by the supplier that public agencies would be supplied first.At the end of October following several shipping delays, Wyeth informed the health agencies that on the advice of legal counsel they were changing their shipping plan and spreading out the available vaccine among all parties, including retailers and wholesalers, thus reducing the amount going to each.Rose said that in past years, public clinics would open with about 700 doses each and could be open for several hours. This year she expects most of the clinics to have less than 300 doses at a time. With the next clinic scheduled for Friday in Langley, Rose fears a repeat of the scene in Coupeville.There were a lot of angry people, and I don't blame them, she said. But it's not our fault. We're trying so hard to do this fairly and equitably but we have so little control. Rose said health officials are still asking people to let those at the greatest risk go first. They include people over age 65, health care workers, individuals with chronic disease and those with whom they come in contact. Other groups at risk include people age 50 to 60, residents of nursing homes, children age 6 months to 18 years who receive long-term aspirin therapy and women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the influenza season.Rose said Whidbey General Hospital has not received its shipment yet. That means health care workers who may have to deal with some of the first cases of flu may not be vaccinated.The county Health Department takes a portion of doses from each shipment to nursing homes and adult care facilities to vaccinate people who cannot get to the clinics. -------------Get your flu shotHere's the latest schedule of Whidbey flu shot clinics. Clinics will open at 10 a.m. and will close when vaccine has been used up.Friday, Nov. 17, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, LangleyTuesday, Nov. 28, Coupeville Recreation HallFriday, Dec. 1, Trinity Lutheran Church, FreelandThursday, Dec. 7, Coupeville Recreation HallTuesday, Dec. 12, Oak Manor, Oak Harbor "

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