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San Bernardino County declares swine flu emergency, joining other counties

November 11, 2009 |  2:05 pm

San Bernardino County public health officials have declared a state of emergency due to H1N1 flu, one in a series of federal, state and local declarations intended to position authorities to deal with people sickened by the new flu strain.

Last month, President Barack Obama declared a national H1N1 emergency and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger  declared a statewide emergency in April.

Public health officials in Los Angeles and Orange counties declared a state of emergency due to H1N1 flu, commonly known as swine flu, last spring. Orange County’s declaration has since lapsed, a spokeswoman said. But L.A. County’s declaration remains in effect. Other counties with declarations include Sacramento, Santa Clara and San Joaquin.

Some county health officials hope that by declaring emergencies at the local level, they can lay claim to more vaccines and other resources, or be reimbursed by state and federal officials for mass vaccination clinics and other efforts.

San Bernardino County, with more than 2 million residents, has received about 30,000 doses of the scarce vaccine so far. Public health officials have vaccinated about 9,000 of those most at risk, according to Jim Lindley, the county’s public health director. But hundreds of thousands more who need the vaccine have not been inoculated, Lindley said.

“We can’t do much about the spread of the disease until we get enough vaccines,” Lindley said.

He said the decision to declare the state of emergency was strategic.

“If all of a sudden the manufacturers release a bunch of vaccine and they have to distribute that through the state Department of Public Health, the first counties they will look at are those that have declared a state of emergency," Lindley said. "If something becomes available, we go to the head of the list.”

But state officials said declaring a state of emergency does not necessarily give a county an edge.

“If this were a single county being affected, that would be different. But since there’s a statewide event and everybody’s sort of in the same boat, I don’t think it would work,” said Mike Sicilia, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Public Health.

Sicilia said state officials are working with officials in San Bernardino and 24 other local health agencies that have received less than 45% of their orders for H1N1 flu vaccines, the state average.

“We’re trying to get everyone back up to parity,” Sicilia said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske