October 28, 2009

Frustration grows with lack of flu vaccine

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

For most people, the flu season is something that they give little thought to, but with the H1N1 or Swine Flu, this year’s flu season has taken on a completely different tone. Especially, since getting vaccinated against it is an ongoing challenge.
“Because the H1N1 virus is new, the vaccine is taking some time to produce and get out to the public,” says Marcia Washburn, Upper Missouri District Health Unit, (UMDHU) registered nurse. “We were hoping to have our first vaccination clinic the first Wednesday of October, but we just got our first shipment of vaccine so it didn’t happen until Oct. 21.”
The Centers for Disease Control, is shipping a limited amount of the vaccine to each state on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, because it takes time to produce the vaccine and there have been some errors along the way, the vaccine remains in short supply.
“We only had 20 doses of the vaccine this week,” says Washburn. “Right now we are following the guidelines set by the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDH), which allows these doses to be given only to children six months to 18 years. We are hopeful that more vaccine will become available soon so we can start vaccinating more people.”
With only 20 doses available, a lot of people walked away from last week’s clinic disappointed and angry.
“This was our first real Point of Dispensing experience and I will admit that everything didn’t go perfectly. But, now we know what to expect next time,” says Marie Williams, UMDHU emergency preparedness response coordinator. “We appreciate the public’s patience with us and the fact that there is a limited supply of vaccine available.”
According to Williams, many people were angry that there were only 20 doses available and they felt that the clinic should have been postponed until there were more doses.
“What people don’t realize is that we won’t receive more doses unless we use the ones we have, no matter how few that is,” adds Williams. “We expected a lot more doses this week, but because of several problems with production we didn’t get the number we expected. I’m hoping that there will be a lot more available for next week’s clinic.”
While many people were frustrated that there weren’t enough doses to go around, a few people would have been happy to give theirs away to someone else.
“I don’t like shots and I didn’t want to get this one,” says eight-year-old Gabby Kaufman. “I got the shot because people have died from this flu, but it hurt and I don’t know if it was worth it or not.”
Even though Gabby isn’t sure that the shot was worth it, many parents have decided to vaccinate their kids just to be safe.
“There is so much talk about the H1N1 flu that I feel that by getting them vaccinated, I did what I could,” says Jenna Cranston of Watford City. “Now, even if my son gets sick, I know that I did what I could.” 
Cranston is hopeful that she will be able to get the vaccine for herself next week because since she is pregnant, she falls into one of the high priority groups.
“I keep hearing about H1N1 in the news and it’s scary,” adds Cranston. “I was hoping to get both of my kids and myself vaccinated. I’m not part of the priority group and my youngest son had a fever ,so I was only able to get one of my kids vaccinated this week. I guess we’ll be back in line again next week.”
“It’s hard to say when we will open the vaccination clinics up to other priority groups,” says Williams. “Right now we are following the NDDH guidelines, and as they change we will make adjustments to our priority group. We will try to post the specifications for receiving the vaccine on the UMDHU web site and the sign outside of the clinic, but it changes a lot so we can’t predict anything until we get the vaccine.”
The UMDHU will continue to hold vaccination clinics as long as shipments continue to arrive with hopes that soon everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be.
“We expect to receive shipments each week for the next several weeks,” said Washburn. “Next week we should have a better idea about the amount of H1N1 influenza vaccine allocated for North Dakota and the schedule for receiving the vaccine.
We encourage people to keep informed through the media or www.UMDHU.org for updated information.”
In addition to needing more vaccine, the UMDHU also needs more volunteers to help man the clinics.
“The people who are trained as volunteers know who they are, and if any of those people can help, it would be great for them to give us a call,” adds Washburn. “We can also do a quick training for any new volunteers. We need healthcare personnel, but we can also use other people, so anyone interested in helping is appreciated.”
H1N1 vaccination clinics will be held each Wednesday at the Watford City Civic Center from 2 to 7 p.m. with the next clinic scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 28.
For questions about flu vaccinations or illness, the North Dakota Department of Health has activated a toll-free public health hotline for people to call. The number to call is 1-866-207-2880. The hotline is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Standard Time.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the upcoming clinics can call Washburn at 444-3449.