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Chaos in Clinics Over H1N1 Vaccine Shortage

October 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Throughout the nation, concern over a possible H1N1 vaccine shortage is causing chaos at hospitals. Betty Ann Bower visits a clinic in Maryland for more.
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GWEN IFILL: Now the latest on the fight against the so-called swine flu and the demand for the vaccine — many people have been reluctant, even worried, about getting the H1N1 flu vaccine, but many more seem to be scrambling for the doses available right now.

Betty Ann Bowser of our Health Unit watched that play out today at a clinic in Maryland. The Health Unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

MAN: Has it ever been this busy?

MAN: Never. Never. This is chaos.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: That pretty well summed up the situation outside a Montgomery County public health clinic in suburban Washington, as some 2,000 area residents lined up to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.

It’s a scene playing out across the country, demand outstripping supply. It was a particularly dramatic at this Rockville, Maryland, clinic today, as lines snaked around the building, through the parking lot, and down the block.

Within minutes of opening its doors, health care officials let the crowd know that swine flu shots were going fast to the people most at risk: pregnant women, children under the age of 2, and people with underlying health conditions.

WOMAN: I am getting updates quicker about the injectable, because we are — you know, we’re going through that fairly quickly. And I will continue to update you regarding the vaccine status.

MAN: Where’s the next clinic, and when?

WOMAN: The next clinic will be determined when we get more vaccine. We cannot tell you where or when it is. We don’t want to advertise something that we then would have to cancel.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The county had over 3,000 doses of nasal mist for people 2 to 49 years of age, but only 249 doses of injectable swine flu vaccine, and more than half of that was gone before 10:00.

WOMAN: We have about 100 doses of injectable left.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Chantelle and her husband, Matt Gastinger, had been patiently waiting in line for hours when they heard the news. But they were still hopeful she would make the cut.

How long have you been here?

CHANTELLE GASTINGER: We have been here since 7:00.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And they just announced there’s 100 doses left.

CHANTELLE GASTINGER: Right.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Are you concerned?

CHANTELLE GASTINGER: Yes. I think we are right on the borderline as to whether or not we’re going to receive the vaccine.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: If you don’t get it today, what are you going to do?

CHANTELLE GASTINGER: Probably just to wait to see if there’s another clinic that we can get into.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Are you worried about this?

MATT GASTINGER: We’re a little concerned, but, you know, we wanted to get it just for the sake of the baby.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Danielle DeWitt’s baby was due three days ago, and her obstetrician doesn’t have any vaccine.

What are you going to do if you don’t make it?

DANIELLE DEWITT: Just wait until after I have the baby, I guess, because I’m not sure when the next vaccine will be, because they don’t know when the vaccine is going to arrive, they said. So…

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Are you worried about this?

DANIELLE DEWITT: There’s not much I can do about it.

Vaccines run out

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Inside the clinic, health care workers tried hard to move the crowd through quickly and administer the vaccine.

By 10:20 a.m., there were no shots left.

MAN: So, please stand in line, and stay in line for the mist version, if you're eligible for that. But I'm sorry. We have no more injectables as of this moment.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Kathy Gaenzler was able to get for her 4-year-old daughter vaccinated, but not 14-month-old son Andrew.

KATHY GAENZLER: And he's so young. And the media and everybody keep saying that the kids are at risk. And I don't understand, if the kids are the ones who are at risk, why they're not providing more of the injectable, instead of the mist. So, what are we to do? So...

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What are you going to do now?

KATHY GAENZLER: Good question. I don't know. I guess, we will try the clinic on the 28th. But its hard to keep bringing them at 6:00, 7:00 in the morning, and waiting in line for three, four hours, and then you get to the door and there's nothing. So, I don't know. I don't know what we're going to do.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Before closing the doors at 12:00 noon, health officials administered 1,311 doses of the nasal flu mist.

Dr. Ulder Tillman, the public health officer for Montgomery County, said it is not clear when they will get more injectable vaccine.

Dr. ULDER TILLMAN, public health officer, Montgomery County, Maryland: Over time, we will be able to meet the need. I mean, more vaccine will be coming. I understand that it was slow in its production for the month of October.

We do expect to continue to receive vaccine. Federal government has purchased adequate vaccine, so that all of our target groups can receive it. So, it's a question of patience. So, so far, this disease is still in the mild-to-moderate range. We have not experienced some of the severity, but we do have hospitalizations in the state, and we have had 10 deaths in the state.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And a troubling fact for parents: The H1N1 virus continues to be most dangerous to children and young adults.

CDC officials acknowledged, vaccine production is behind schedule, but expect widespread availability by mid-November.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, I-Conn.: A virus is moving very rapidly.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: On Capitol Hill today, three Cabinet officials were pressed about the vaccine shortage.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured a Senate panel more vaccine was coming.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary: There is enough vaccine, and will be, to vaccinate every American who wants to be vaccinated. It's -- and we are pushing it out as quickly as we can.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: She also said two new antiviral drugs to treat influenza were days from being approved by the FDA.