Demand for swine flu vaccine in LA County exceeds supply

Four-year-old Rowan Watchmaker looks on as her mother is injected with the H1N1 flu vaccine at a clinic in Ottawa, Monday, Oct. 26, 2009.
Four-year-old Rowan Watchmaker looks on as her mother is injected with the H1N1 flu vaccine at a clinic in Ottawa, Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. AP Photo

Demand exceeds supplies for the swine flu vaccine in Los Angeles County and officials were urging people not included in priority groups to stay home for the time being.

Public health officials have administered about 50,000 free swine flu vaccines since Friday and expect to give another 10,000 today.

The county's top doctor urged those people 25-64 years old without underlying health problems, over 65 years old, or not caring for an infant younger than 6 months old to defer vaccinations.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the director of the Department of Public Health, about a quarter of the doses set aside for the the public health department have been administered so far. An estimated 5.5 million Los Angeles County residents fall into priority categories established by the Centers for Disease Control.

Those planning to line up for a vaccine at county clinics were urged to review the vaccination form, found in several languages on the department's Web site, www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.

Those in a priority group should bring in a completed form. Those not in a priority group will have to wait for a future clinic to receive a vaccination, Fielding said.

The priority groups are:

-- pregnant women;

-- young people 6 months to 24 years old;

-- people living with or caring for infants under 6 months of age;

-- health care workers and emergency service personnel; and

-- individuals ages 25-64 with health conditions that put them at higher risk for flu-related complications.

Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to the H1N1 virus, with at least 28 dying nationwide from the virus. Those who are pregnant should get the Thimerosal-free, injectable version of the vaccine, as opposed to the nasal mist.

California is supposed to get about 20 million doses of the vaccine but has received less than 2 million so far because of production delays. The government hopes to have 150 million doses of swine flu vaccine shipped out across the country by December.

Of the 300,000 doses received by the county, about 220,000 have been sent to hospitals and private providers, while about 80,000 have been sent to public clinics.

While most of those in the priority groups have private insurance, according to Fielding, the county is not turning away those who would ordinarily seek private treatment under their insurance.

Because the private sector has very little vaccine, "we go ahead and treat them," Fielding said of those with insurance.

While a higher percentage of the available vaccine has been sent to private providers, only a very small percentage of doctors who requested the vaccine have received it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 46 states are experiencing widespread outbreaks of the H1N1 flu.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in April, more than 20,000 have been hospitalized and more than 1,000 people have died of the disease.

In Los Angeles County, 65 people have died since tracking for the flu began and more than 170 were hospitalized just last week, said Fielding.

Fielding said the outbreak at this point qualified as "moderately severe," but the difference is that the H1N1 virus has struck earlier and had a more dramatic affect on younger patients and pregnant women than typical flu.

In addition to limited supply, officials are seeing a greater than expected demand, due in part, Fielding said, to President Barack Obama's declaration of a national emergency.

"One of the problems is the unpredictability," of future supply and demand, Fielding said. "The current supply is certainly inadequate" and it will take a number of weeks for production to catch up with demand, he added.

The director said nearly 1,000 people waited in line at a clinic in Pomona and varying demand at other locations prompted county staffers to reallocate vaccines.

"This is unprecedented, and we can't really predict the demand at different sites," Fielding said.

More than 2,000 county workers were handling what Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called the biggest public health mobilization since polio vaccinations in the 1950s.

Today's clinics will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at:

-- Acton Community Center, 3748 Nickels Ave.;

-- Pomona Fairplex, 1101 W. McKinley Ave.;

-- El Camino College, 1111 E. Artesia Blvd., Compton; and

-- Downey Theatre, 8435 Firestone Blvd.

The clinics will continue tomorrow at the same locations, except the Downey Theatre.

A list of future locations and hours is available online at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov, or by calling the county's 2-1-1 information line.

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