Local News

H1N1 shots in high demand

Posted October 30, 2009 10:04 a.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2009 6:07 p.m. EDT

— Long lines at H1N1 vaccination clinics Friday in Durham and Wake counties exemplify the situation across the country, where demand outstrips supply.

Parents with small children, pregnant women and others worried about the H1N1 flu lined up outside the Durham County Health Department before dawn for the first of two scheduled vaccination clinics.

Durham County Health Director Gayle Harris said she counted at least 250 people outside the doors at 414 E. Main St. before 8 a.m. One woman told Harris she arrived at 5 a.m. to stand in line.

The line at the North Carolina State University Student Center snaked out the door and up the stairs. Sophomore Laura Sharpe said she waited for more than two hours.

"My mom was on my case about it, so I am here," she said.

University health officials said they gave out 990 doses of vaccine to students Friday. The plan to hold another clinic next Wednesday and will have about 2,000 doses of vaccine available for students, faculty and staff.

In Durham, the crowd was largely made of parents and mothers-to-be.

Marilyn Diaz had been turned away from another clinic when she tried to get H1N1 vaccine for her 18-month-old daughter, Annie.

"I feel relieved, you know," Diaz said. "I just wanted to get it as soon as possible."

Mother-to-be Elizabeth Whittneben said she, too, had made multiple attempts to get the shot.

"(At) my ob/gyn office, it's just kind of luck of the draw," she said. "You call and, if they have the vaccine available, you can come in, but I just haven't been lucky yet."

Durham advertised the clinic for pregnant women and other members of high-risk groups -- caregivers or anyone in a household with infants younger than six months old and children from age 6 months to 4 years.

Shortage felt at state level

County health departments statewide are under pressure to carry out their vaccination campaigns before the winter flu season starts.

"Our goal is to get vaccine into as many arms as possible," Harris said.

The H1N1 strain of the flu, also called swine flu, has killed at least 5,700 people worldwide since it appeared in April, according to the World Health Organization.

Last week, President Barack Obama declared the spread of the virus a "national emergency" in hopes of speeding up production and delivery of vaccines.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that an estimated 22 million doses have been manufactured, and that number should double by the end of the month. Over time, the government expects to have as many as 225 million doses of the new vaccine if needed.

Dr. Albert Osbahr, president of the North Carolina Medical Society, said, "Patience is important."

He said vaccine production has been slow as manufacturers work to produce two separate medicines -- one for seasonal flu, another for H1N1.

Dr. Megan Davies, a North Carolina epidemiologist, echoed that message.

"We've had small amounts of vaccine to start with, and so that's been frustrating to everybody, but we have been getting it out all across the state," she said.

Osbahr said he worries that the slow rollout of the vaccine means the virus will linger in the population into the spring.

"If we don't have enough people vaccinated by that time, could we see another bump up in the spring? It is possible," he said.

In Durham, everyone who came to the clinic Friday morning -- almost 400 people -- got the vaccine. Harris said she canceled an afternoon session after the shots ran out.

Johnston County plans clinic

Authorities suggest the best place to get the vaccine is from your family doctor.

Johnston County will offer shots for both the seasonal and H1N1 flus Tuesday from 2 to 7 p.m. Shots will be limited to children ages 6 months through 18 years.

The clinic will be held at the Public Health Department located at 517 N. Bright Leaf Blvd. in Smithfield. Children need not be residents of Johnston County to get the vaccine.