H1N1 Vaccine Available But Still In Short Supply

By Megan E. Gustafson
Capital News Service
Friday, Nov. 13, 2009

ANNAPOLIS - County health departments around Maryland are receiving doses of the 2009 novel H1N1 vaccine and administering it to people in target groups, but the supply is still not what health officials would like it to be, and the reasons for the continued slow distribution pace aren't entirely clear.

"(We) have not yet gotten to the point where we're turning that trickle (of vaccine) into a stream, and certainly not at the point where we're turning that stream into a river," said David Paulson, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Earlier this year, health officials were optimistic about having sufficient supplies of vaccine for everyone who wanted it, but their initial estimates now seem to have been greatly overestimated.

A shortage has caused vaccine seekers to wait in long lines, while others have been turned away.

Vaccine clinics in Montgomery County at the end of October closed less than an hour after opening when demand far outpaced supply.

A shortage is still being felt in Carroll County as three upcoming vaccination clinics have been cancelled. And health department Web sites and flu information phone recordings are urging vaccine seekers to check in frequently as clinic information can change depending on vaccine availability.

In some areas, however, the shortage seems to be less pronounced.

Baltimore County was distributing the vaccine at a clinic Thursday and expects to hold three more vaccine clinics before the Thanksgiving holiday, said Monique Lyle, public information officer for the Baltimore County Department of Health.

The vaccine, available in both the FluMist nasal spray and the injectable shot versions, was being given to all five target groups -- pregnant women, those between 6 months and 24 years, healthcare personnel, people who live with and care for children under 6 months and those ages 25 to 64 with underlying health conditions -- and was not expected to be in short supply at Thursday's clinic.

One reason Baltimore County isn't turning people away is that it administers the vaccine by appointment.

"We will not have to turn anyone away," Lyle said. Vaccination efforts also began in schools on Thursday, she said.

The Allegany County Health Department hasn't had to turn away anyone, either.

"So far we've been able to vaccinate everyone who comes to our (clinics)," said Dr. Sue Raver, the county health officer.

The county has already begun vaccinating in schools, and at the health department. On Friday it's holding a large vaccination clinic at the county fairgrounds that will offer both forms of the vaccine to all five target groups, Raver said.

Previous vaccination efforts focused on just some of the targeted populations.

The Calvert County Health Department is holding an H1N1 vaccination clinic on Saturday at the county fairgrounds, according to a recording on the county's flu information line. Vaccine is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and is only for those in the target groups.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene receives information from the federal government daily about how many doses are being allocated to the state of Maryland, Paulson said.

Of those vaccine doses, about 50 percent go to healthcare providers such as doctors' offices and clinics, 28 percent go to local health departments, 18 percent go to hospitals and five percent go to colleges and universities, Paulson said.

Earlier in the week, about 20,000 doses were being allocated to Maryland each day, but the numbers started to drop as the week went on, with only 4,600 doses allocated on Thursday, and zero on Friday, Paulson said.

Paulson isn't sure of the reason for the drop-off in doses this week.

"There is no one to blame, because I think everybody along the chain, from the manufacturer to the federal government to the shipper and so on is doing everything they can," Paulson said.

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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