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2 counties offer H1N1 flu vaccine to general public

December 10, 2009 |  6:04 pm

The shortage of H1N1 flu vaccine appears to be improving in California, prompting a few counties to begin offering inoculations to the general public, health officials said today.

Sacramento and Ventura counties now have no limitations on who can receive the vaccination for H1N1, also known as the swine flu. Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are still reserving their vaccine for children, young adults, pregnant women and the chronically ill, among other priority groups. But officials indicated that, for the most part, the vaccine shortage has eased.

In Long Beach, for example, turnout was disappointing Saturday, when officials held the city’s last mass vaccination clinic at City Hall, said Michael Johnson, a spokesman for the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services.

“There are no more long lines,” said Sheila Murphy, spokeswoman for the Ventura County Health Care Agency, which opened up its vaccine supply to all county residents this week. “It was the right time to open it up to everyone.”

Sacramento County is able to vaccinate 2,000 people in a four-hour period in a mass clinic, so when demand began falling below the county’s capacity to inoculate, the county decided to open up the clinics to everyone else after Thanksgiving once they received permission from the state, said Dr. Glennah Trochet, health officer for Sacramento County.

Other areas, however, are still reporting heavy demand, including Orange and Riverside counties. In Pasadena, health officer Dr. Takashi Wada said there are still patients in the priority groups who can’t find the vaccine.

The latest update from the state came as federal health officials announced that at least 50 million Americans had contracted pandemic H1N1 influenza through Nov. 14.

The newest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released today, means that about 15% of the entire country has been infected, about one in every six people. At the same time, CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said that although about 10,000 people have died from H1N1, the mortality rate is lower than a typical seasonal flu season.

Statewide, H1N1 flu levels appear to be decreasing, with less than 300 people hospitalized last week, down from nearly 800 the previous week. There were 31 deaths reported to the state last week, up from 12 the previous week, but still below the high of 36 reported for the week that ended Nov. 21.

Still, more than half of California’s local health jurisdictions are reporting flu outbreaks, and officials were still seeing severe illnesses and death in children. State health officer Dr. Mark Horton urged those in the priority groups to get vaccinated, warning that it is likely that there will be a resurgent wave of H1N1 cases later.

“The vast majority of the population remains susceptible” to H1N1, Horton said. “We don’t want to put down our guard at all.”

—Rong-Gong Lin II