'Overwhelming Response': Thousands Jam Pinehurst Medical for Flu Vaccinations
Long lines, long waits, a traffic jam and bad weather plagued a Saturday flu vaccination clinic at Moore County's largest medical clinic.
But by the time the clinic ended, 90 minutes later than scheduled, some 3,360 patients had been vaccinated against seasonal flu.
"It was frustrating for everyone, and it was extraordinarily hard for us," said Jeanine Carfagna, director of clinical services at the Pinehurst Medical Clinic. "We heard a lot of complaints, and people were angry."
However, Carfagna said clinic personnel did the best they could, and the staff is proud that everyone who came to the clinic received a vaccination. Patients were already standing in line at 7:45 a.m., and the last patient was treated at 1:30 p.m.
Despite the long wait and the frustration, that was the good news. The bad news is that the clinic received little more than one-third of its order for 9,000 doses of seasonal flu vaccine. This means that a second clinic, scheduled for Nov. 7, has been canceled.
The Moore County Health Department received no vaccine at all for the seasonal flu. The department did order H1N1 flu vaccine, which is being distributed through a series of clinics in the schools.
"It's kind of scary," said Donna Blue, director of nursing at the Health Department, when asked about a supply of seasonal flu vaccine.
Blue said the department's distributor advised her that its supply had been cut by 40 million doses and that it could not fill the county's order. The Health Depart-ment had placed an order for 800 doses, which were to be administered to prenatal patients.
In the past, the department has ordered as many as 2,500 doses but cut the order this year because so many patients take advantage of clinics at private businesses, especially drugstores and grocery stores.
Blue said the easy availability of flu vaccinations diverted many of the county's usual patients away from the department last year, and the department was left with a considerable amount of vaccine on hand at the end of the season.
This year, the seasonal flu vaccine is in short supply for multiple reasons, including the emphasis placed on the H1N1 flu virus, which has prompted many pharmaceutical companies to divert their manufacturing efforts from seasonal flu vaccine to the new virus, commonly referred to as swine flu.
"It is unbelievable," said pharmacist Marshall Sweat at Kerr Drug in Carthage Tuesday.
Although the store has scheduled a clinic this afternoon (Wednesday), Sweat said his supply is down to a mere 38 doses, and he expects that dosage to be used within minutes after the clinic begins. He said the drugstore will begin giving out numbers to clients at 2 p.m., and everyone will be called according to number until all 38 shots are administered. And that won't take long.
Sweat estimates that he has received 600 calls about flu vaccinations since Monday.
'Can't Get Order Filled'
Carfagna said the Pinehurst Medical Clinic ordered 9,000 doses this year and received less than 4,000.
When an inquiry was made about the remainder of the order, the clinic was advised that there was no more vaccine.
"It's pretty bad when we have the largest medical clinic in the county, and we can't get our order filled," she said.
Carfagna said the turnout Saturday was the biggest the clinic has had since it began the service four years ago. The clinic offers vaccinations only to registered patients, not the general public.
Some did become impatient, and the large turnout clogged the roads outside the clinic and nearby streets. Many did not understand that the clinic had no control over the quantity of vaccine available, she added.
"It was upsetting to us," Carfagna said of the overwhelming response and to the impatient reaction of some patients. "We stayed till the last person was treated."
Carfagna said the clinic makes no money off the vaccinations, which are offered as a service to patients.
In recent years, complaints have surfaced that pharmaceutical companies have been supplying pharmacies, grocery stores and other chain businesses while short-changing doctors, clinics and health departments. But this year the drugstores are not receiving their orders either. Other drugstores have been offering vaccinations but have not publicized their clinics as widely as usual because of the short supply of vaccine.
H1N1 Diverts Attention
Sweat said Kerr Drug in Carthage began administering flu shots as early as August but did not publicize it because the flu season was still many weeks away.
The shots were given when patients came in to fill prescriptions. At the time, no one was aware that a shortage would develop, and there was no particular demand at the time.
When the drugstore's supply was used up, Sweat called corporate headquarters for a fresh supply, only to be informed of limited supplies.
Sweat blames media attention to H1N1 and seasonal flu viruses for generating interest in flu prevention this year. He recalled that his supply of seasonal flu vaccine last year lasted into January.
Concern about flu was prompted early this year with reports of H1N1 flu, a newly identified virus with uncertain results and incidents reported around the world.
Blue offers one piece of advice to local residents who have not been vaccinated against seasonal flu and want the vaccination. There is a Web site, www.flu.gov, that provides a list of sites where the vaccine is available, although this may involve a drive to a city a number of miles away.
The clinics are listed by clicking on the Flu Clinic Finder link, where one must provide a zip code and a mileage limit of from five to 50 miles.
A check by The Pilot turned up four Kerr drugstores within 50 miles of Southern Pines that have scheduled clinics this week.
One is the Carthage store, with only 38 doses left. Others are in Angier, Ramseur and Norwood. Sweat fears that these stores may not be in better shape than the Carthage store.
Anyone interested in following up on these clinics is advised to call in advance to make sure the store has plenty of vaccine and the clinic is still scheduled. The Web site provides telephone numbers along with addresses, dates and hours of clinics.
None of the clinics is offering the H1N1 flu vaccine. A separate vaccine was developed for H1N1 flu because the virus was identified too late for drug companies to incorporate that new strain into the regular (seasonal) flu vaccine.
Health specialists admit that little is known about the new virus, but the emphasis is being placed on younger people and especially pregnant women.
Experts believe that older people may have developed an immunity to this strain in earlier years and thus may not be as vulnerable to the new strain. However, health specialists continue to recommend that older people get the seasonal flu vaccination, a recommendation that also applies to several other elements of society.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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