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Busiest day yet for L.A. County's free H1N1 clinics [Updated]

November 3, 2009 |  3:24 pm

People lined-up to get swine-flu shots at Glendale Civic Auditorium today. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times

By 3 a.m. today a line had begun to form outside the Glendale Auditorium, determined to get vaccinated against H1N1 flu. When the clinic doors opened 6 1/2 hours later, city officials said the people in line likely numbered 2,500, as many as they had doses in hand.

[Updated 5:45 p.m.: An earlier version of this post reported that more than 100 people were in line at 3 a.m. based on information provided by a county public health spokeswoman. The official later said that the number came from Glendale police, and she could verify only that people were already in line at that time,]

For those trying to heed federal health officials' advice that they get the vaccine, the mood was one of anxiety.

Under a hot sun with little shade, mothers waited with children. Some shared food, chairs, crayons and portable DVD players. Children played with coloring books and joined Nerf football game on the grass as a dozen police and firefighters looked on. But there were also reports of people cutting in line, and police had to be called when a few of those waiting became irate when told they were ineligible after waiting for hours.

At noon, word came that the supply of vaccine had run out. A wooden barrier went up to cut off new arrivals, and the fortunate waited to see if the supply of nasal spray would hold out long enough for them. Some who cannot get the vaccine in mist form -- including those with breathing problems such as asthma -- left. But an hour later, L.A. Countypublic health officials said they had gone to the their warehouse for more injectables and now hoped to vaccinate 2,900 people.

By then, the line had grown, snaking around the building and doubling back in places. Pregnant women stood apart in a separate, shorter line.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's public health director, arrived in the early afternoon to help with screening. Mobbed with questions, Fielding advised frustrated families who had been waiting for hours that theirs was the busiest clinic of the day.

"We're in the same situation private providers are in--either we haven't gotten it or we got too little," Fielding said of the vaccine.

After concern late last week that they might have to end the free clinics Wednesday, Fielding said the county had enough vaccines for clinics planned through Nov. 8, and will announce new clinics in the next few days. But it was unclear when the next shipment of vaccine would arrive.

Fielding said today's clinics vaccinated about 300 people an hour. Two asthmatic women who were turned away after waiting in line all morning questioned why more was not done to screen out those ineligible for the vaccine or to give credit to those who had waited at other clinics and been turned away before.

"I don't want to go to another clinic and have the same thing happen," said Sylvia Denlinger, 53, of Eagle Rock.

Fielding said he sympathized, but that if those who had already waited were given credit, they would fill an entire clinic. He said public health officials had expected smaller crowds initially, mostly uninsured people, since most of the vaccines were supposed to go to private providers.

Now they are attempting to expand the clinics as private providers face shortages and turn away patients. While some waiting in Glendale today said they had no insurance, the majority said they were insured but had personal doctors who either ran out or never received the vaccine.

Many pulled their children out of school to wait in the heat.

Zoya Shahrivari, 29, of Los Angeles, who is about 4 1/2-months pregnant, waited in a shorter line with about 120 other pregnant women who all got the vaccine.

But her father, Ali Reza, 60, who said he has a heart condition and needed the vaccine, was still waiting this afternoon.

"I believe they are not going to have enough," said Reza, who works in construction. But he said he was happy his daughter got vaccinated.

"The pregnant women and the children are the most important," he said. "They just need more supply."

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske reporting in Glendale

Related: Shortage of flu vaccines leaves healthcare workers vulnerable

Photo: People lined up today to get swine-flu shots at Glendale Civic Auditorium. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times.