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County clinics gave swine flu vaccine to anyone who showed up, even the low-risk and insured

October 27, 2009 |  7:27 am

L.A. County health officials said they provided H1N1 shots to anyone who came to their clinics over the last few days, even those who were not in the "priority group" at greatest risk of getting sick.

When the clinics opened last week, officials said they were targeting the uninsured and those most at risk of catching H1N1 flu, the so-called “priority groups” being pregnant women, youths and those with weakened immune systems.

 “A lot of people are just showing up even if they have health insurance, because they have tried and been unable to get” the vaccine from private physicians, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county’s Department of Public Health. “We’re accommodating them because we have enough vaccine.”

But late Monday, after The Times interviewed Fielding, the Department of Public Health put out a press release vowing to “intensify” screening to root out those who are not among priority groups and ensure "equitable availability of the limited vaccine supply throughout the county.”

The release encouraged those headed for a county-sponsored H1N1 vaccine clinic to review the vaccination form, available online. Those who are not in an H1N1 priority group will have to wait to receive a vaccine, the statement said.

So far, only 50,000 adults and children have been vaccinated against H1N1 flu countywide, and it is not clear how many of those are among priority groups, Fielding said.

Private doctors and clinics have been overwhelmed by demand for the vaccine, and many have run out, leading to long lines at county-sponsored clinics. At a clinic in the City of Industry that opened Monday, Fielding said more than 500 people waited in line for the vaccine.

“The shortage, while temporary, has been causing a lot of understandable frustration and consternation,” Fielding said. Los Angeles County clinics and private providers have received 300,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine since shipments started arriving last month from the federal government, which purchased and distributed the vaccines nationwide.

An additional 94,000 doses of H1N1 vaccines are expected to be shipped to private and public providers in Los Angeles County this week, Fielding said. More shipments are expected in coming weeks. As four more county clinics opened today in Acton, Compton, Downey and Pomona, Fielding urged those with private medical insurance to be patient.

“We sympathize with them,” he said.

Priority groups in L.A. County, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control, include: pregnant women; people living with or caring for infants under 6 months old; emergency-medical-services personnel and healthcare workers; children and young adults ages 6 months to 24; and those 25 to 64 years old with chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, asthma, diabetes, or weakened immune systems. An estimated 5.5 million people in L.A. County fall into those categories, Fielding said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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