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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

County Gets 1st Shipment of Delayed Flu Vaccine

Health: First 10,000 doses will go to high-risk people. Officials await another 15,000 doses. Production problems pushed back immunizations a month.

November 02, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 10,000 doses of the long-awaited flu vaccine have arrived at county clinics, allowing health officials Wednesday to begin administering the serum to combat the potentially debilitating, sometimes fatal, infection.

But the delay has forced health officials to limit the first batch of vaccine to those considered at high risk for the virus: the elderly, adults and children suffering from chronic illnesses, and pregnant women.

"We really have to focus on those who are in need first," said Lin Glusac, immunization coordinator for Ventura County, noting that even hospital employees are on a waiting list for shots.

Lines spilled from the county's public health clinic in Ventura, where groups of seniors stood eager to take advantage of the serum.

A delay in the serum's production forced health officials who normally administer vaccinations in late September or early October to wait until November.

But with the late arrival came some good news.

"There will be no shortage," Glusac said. "We'll have about the same amount as we had last year. Now, it's just a matter of getting it."

Glusac said the county is awaiting another 15,000 doses to meet local needs.

The doses are available, but because of the late production it's taking time to get them out to health agencies nationwide, she said.

"What we've got won't go too far," she said.

"But hopefully we'll get our next shipment before we run out."

Charlis Thompson, a spokeswoman for the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said about 99% of the nation's 77 million vaccines are normally administered before December. Now, officials estimate that as many as 18 million patients may not be vaccinated until mid-December, the heart of flu season.

The delays are not expected to have an effect on the start of the flu season, which runs from November through January, county officials said.

While there have been reports of the virus in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, nothing has been documented in Ventura County.

Still, Lorry Dorn, a 65-year-old social worker from Ojai, said she wasn't going to waste any more time before getting her shot. She stood in the long lines outside the Ventura clinic Wednesday afternoon to ensure that she got her serum dose.

Despite an "ouch" as the needle pricked her skin, Dorn smiled and said she felt relieved.

"I had pneumonia last year," she said. "So I wasn't going to miss. I'm just worried about my husband now. He still hasn't gotten his."

Dorn said she began calling last month to find facilities offering the shots, but was hard-pressed to find any. "Even my big, fancy doctor at Cedars-Sinai didn't have it yet," Dorn said. "And he still doesn't."

Health officials don't expect an extra heavy flu season, despite the late vaccinations. Doctors who created the flu serum this year used the right strains of the virus in mixing the batch, which means those vaccinated will have a strong chance of beating the bug.

Typically, doctors try to guess what strains of influenza will strike during flu season, and create vaccine based on their hunches.

Most other county hospitals have received at least partial vaccination shipments, including Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks and St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.

But officials at St. John's, who received their batch Oct. 24, have limited disbursement to employees and patients, said spokeswoman Kristen Davis.

St. John's will offer community vaccinations beginning Nov. 14 at the Camarillo Health Care District on East Los Posas Road in Camarillo from 3 to 5:30 p.m. St. John's also will limit early shots to those considered most at risk, Davis said.

For more information on other community vaccination sites and eligibility, Davis said residents can call St. John's education department at 988-2865.

FYI

* Who can get the shots first:

People 65 years of age and older.

Anyone with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs or kidneys. Or anyone with diabetes, asthma and severe forms of anemia or immune system problems.

Pregnant women.

Caregivers of the elderly or chronically ill.

* Where to go:

Vaccinations are available at all four Ventura County public health centers:

Oxnard Public Health Center, Centerpoint Mall, 2500 South C St., Suite D, 385-8652.

Santa Paula Public Health Center, 620 W. Harvard Blvd., 933-5505.

Ventura Public Health Center, 3147 Loma Vista Road, 652-5928.

Simi Valley Public Health Center, 660 E. Los Angeles Ave., Suite B-2, 578-3675.

* Cost:

Medicare will cover most patients. Others in need will not be charged a fee, though an $8 donation is requested.

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