Flu Vaccine Shortage Frustrates Families at Montgomery Co. Clinics
Silver Spring resident Scott Sidel, 44, and daughter, Tammy, 13, talk about not being able to get the H1N1 vaccine at the Silver Spring flu clinic. (Capital News Service video by Megan Gustafson)
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Mandy Zhuang, 5, receives the H1N1 nasal spray vaccine at Northwood High School in Silver Spring. (Capital News Service Photo by Sharmina Manandhar)
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Hundreds of people line up hours before the H1N1 vaccine clinic opened at Northwest High School in Germantown. (Capital News Service Photo by Sharmina Manandhar)

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By Sharmina Manandhar and Megan E. Gustafson
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Three Montgomery County clinics distributing swine flu vaccines Wednesday closed hours before they were scheduled, after demand far outstripped the scant supply, leaving families frustrated.

Silver Spring resident Scott Sidel, 44, was hoping to get the vaccine and didn't expect it to run out as quickly as it did. He arrived at Northwood High School in Silver Spring around 5:30 p.m. for a clinic expected to run until 8 p.m.

Sidel was seeking the vaccine for his daughter Tammy, 13.

"(The H1N1 virus} gives me a great deal of concern," he said, adding that he wants to get his daughter vaccinated as soon as possible.

Two more Marylanders, including an 18-year-old, were confirmed dead of the swine flu this week, bringing the state's death toll to 12. The swine flu, or novel H1N1, has a history of hitting youth and young adults particularly hard.

Concern is so great that President Obama declared the pandemic a national emergency over the weekend.

Some people lined up for five hours before the three Montgomery County clinics' opening. All clinics were scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m., but they permitted entry at 3:30 p.m. Just 1,000 doses of the mist form of the vaccine were available at each site; that ran out as early as 35 minutes after the clinics opened.

Sheyla Wolkyng, 27, of Takoma Park, left her job in a Silver Spring dental office early to take her son to the Silver Spring clinic. But when she got there shortly before 6 p.m., the doses were already exhausted. Her son, Daniel, 11, was frustrated about having to leave soccer practice for nothing.

Montgomery County Health Department spokeswoman Mary Anderson gave Silver Spring resident Yenith Porras, 50, a hotline number to call after she arrived at the clinic and wasn't able to get a vaccine.

Porras said she was frustrated after arriving at the clinic only to have to turn around and go home.

"It's very important because she's in a school right now," Porras said of her daughter, Valorie, 11.

People have been so diligent in following health officials' advice to get both the seasonal and H1N1 inoculations this year that demand has caused a shortage of both seasonal and 2009 H1N1 vaccines. Clinics and immunization programs all over the state have been canceled, postponed or curtailed because of supply problems.

Health officials are now advising residents to check with multiple sources of inoculations, as more vaccines become available in coming weeks.

With roughly 200 people in line when the clinic opened its doors, the Silver Spring site reached its 1,000 mark within 45 minutes, said Anderson.

Health officials at the Rockville flu clinic reached capacity 35 minutes after people were allowed inside, Anderson said.

Despite the health department's efforts to let people know that only nasal sprays were available at Wednesday's clinics, some pregnant women were lined in Silver Spring, Anderson said. The nasal sprays are not recommended for pregnant women and children with chronic health conditions, or children younger than 2.

Though the clinics were set up for Montgomery County residents only, health officials didn't check the residency status, she said.

"The idea is to get vaccines in the hands of as many people as possible," Anderson said. "Nurses aren't police officers," so if people came with kids and insisted they were vaccinated, they weren't turned away.

Ira Levy, 40, arrived at the Germantown flu clinic almost three hours before people were allowed entry. His wife was picking up their 6-year-old son early from school to get to the clinic while he saved their spot in line.

The owner of Buffalo Wings and Beer restaurant franchises, Levy's work schedule is more flexible, and so it wasn't difficult for him to take the time off, he said.

"My son is my life," said Levy, who lives in Gaithersburg, so he didn't mind spending part of his 9-year wedding anniversary day in line.

Levy's son received the seasonal FluMist vaccine first on Sept. 11, and was told to wait 30 days before receiving the H1N1 nasal spray.

Not getting the vaccine wasn't the only source of frustration, though. Demand for the vaccine at the Silver Spring clinic caused traffic tie-ups along University Boulevard that prevented Rik Renich, 45, from getting his daughter Stephanie to her concert at Northwood High School on time.

Renich, of Silver Spring, said that he was not aware of the scheduled flu clinic at Northwood High School, and was upset by the delay, which he said was due in part to poor traffic management.

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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