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Final H1N1 clinics in L.A. County kick off with few complaints

December 4, 2009 |  1:38 pm
The first of the final dozen county-sponsored H1N1 flu vaccination clinics opened this morning in Santa Clarita with faster-moving lines as Los Angeles County health officials applied many of the lessons learned from previous clinics, which had been criticized as chaotic and inefficient.

“It’s pretty smooth,” said Jonathan Williams, a minister at Pomona Church of Christ, who brought 4-year-old daughter Jiana to get vaccinated. By about 9:30 a.m., they were approaching the front of the line of about 100 people, having waited about half an hour.

“It’s not bad,” Williams said, “There’s a cost for everything, and if you just have to be patient, that’s pretty cheap.”

Anthony Deraps and Isabelle Servant, both 25, came to get vaccinated to protect their 5-month-old son, Liam, who is too young to get the vaccination. Within 20 minutes of arriving, they were pushing his stroller close to the entrance.

“It’s very fast -- I’m surprised how the line’s moving,” said Deraps, a quality engineer with IKEA.

By the time the county finishes its last batch of clinics on Dec. 8, it will have distributed nearly 200,000 doses of vaccine at 109 clinics. County leaders say they refined their strategy after facing criticism for mismanaging past clinics, where long lines led to daylong waits for those most at risk, including small children, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses. Some left or were turned away, and lined up at later clinics in the wee hours of the morning.

When about 400 people showed up to wait for this morning’s clinic, scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the staff decided to open half an hour early. To avoid long waits for those most at risk, they created a separate line for pregnant women, children under age 3 and those with mobility issues. By 9:30 a.m., that line had disappeared and staff were screening the rest of those waiting to determine who was most at risk and then leading those people up to the entrance.

Once at the entrance, individuals were issued color-coded wristbands based on the type of vaccine and dosage they would receive at 20 color-coded tables inside: yellow for the nasal spray, green for injectable, pink for prenatal vaccine, purple for children age 3 and under.

The clinic this morning had significantly more doses on hand, 4,000 compared with an average of 2,400 at past clinics. About 800 of the doses at the clinic today were nasal spray, which has proved far less popular than the shots.

Unlike some previous clinics, much of the injectable vaccine was broken down into pediatric doses, said Angela Lozano, a nurse practitioner with the county Department of Public Health and incident commander at the clinic.

“We’re ready to vaccinate just about everyone,” Lozano said.

While public health officials have said H1N1 flu peaked in mid-October to early November and that fewer people are being hospitalized with the flu locally, they said a “third wave” of outbreaks is still possible in coming months and have urged those most at risk to get vaccinated. At-risk “priority groups” include pregnant women, caregivers for infants under 6 months old, healthcare workers, those 6-months-old to 24- years-old and those 25- to 64-years-old with chronic illnesses.

Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, director of the Department of Public Health, surveyed the crowd outside the Santa Clarita clinic at 10 a.m. and said he was glad to see at least a little bit of a line left.

“I want to make sure people know just because we’ve reached the peak of this wave doesn’t mean you can’t get the flu,” he said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Santa Clarita