Thousands of people swarmed Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian on Saturday morning seeking hard-to-find flu shots, creating gridlock in parts of Newport Beach that lasted nearly three hours.
Medical personnel administered 2,300 vaccinations but turned away many other people. The hospital plans several other free flu-shot clinics over the next week.
The county has been experiencing a shortage of the serum, and many health centers have had to stop offering shots. The shortage made Hoag a last hope for senior citizens and frail people who immediately needed protection against the influenza virus.
Cal and Evelyn Wildt left their Tustin home at daybreak to head for the drive-through clinic. Their doctors had ordered each to get a flu shot. Cal is a cancer patient, and Evelyn has congestive heart failure. They called several clinics, but none had the vaccine. Then they heard about Hoag.
When they arrived at 6:30 a.m., they couldn't believe their eyes: Cars and vans, most of them loaded with seniors, were snaking their way at least a mile down Hospital Road, along Superior Avenue and around onto West Coast Highway. And the clinic wasn't even supposed to open for another hour and a half.
Traffic was the same along Newport Boulevard, with autos backed up all the way to 16th Street. Newport Beach police dispatched traffic-control officers and Explorers to direct cars around the hospital. By 7:30 a.m. the gridlock was so bad that hospital workers were forced to begin administering the vaccinations just to get the cars flowing.
"I can't believe this," said 70-year-old Evelyn Wildt. "There was one guy who was double-parked on Superior and [West Coast Highway] at a red light, and he wouldn't move."
The Wildts said they were just glad they got there when they did. Many people who arrived at the hospital after 9 a.m. were turned away. And by 9:45 a.m.--more than three hours before the advertised 1 p.m. clinic closing time--hospital workers had given their last vaccination. A motorcycle officer drove up and down the surrounding streets, announcing over a microphone that the supply had been exhausted. An Explorer carried a large sign that read: "Sorry, we are out of the flu vaccine. We apologize for the inconvenience."
Some took the news in stride, while others panicked.
"What? They ran out?" one woman said.
"Oh, no!" said another.
"What am I going to do now?" yet another said, bursting into tears.
For those who made it to the front of the line, the wait was about two hours. People in cars read the newspaper and asked those walking by how much farther the line reached. One woman used her steering wheel as a prop for her book, appropriately titled "I Can Cope."
The hospital plans to hold four more flu-shot clinics Friday, Saturday and next Sunday at some of its health centers around the county, provided the vaccine supplier is able to fill the order. Usually, the county provides the serum to hospitals and clinics free of charge. But vaccine producers have had a difficult time matching the strain of influenza virus identified this year, which has created the delay in supplying the county. The county expects to receive its supply by December.
Hoag, however, found a supplier with the vaccine and was able to purchase enough serum for 2,300 shots. Usually free from the county, Hoag paid about $12,000 for the serum this year.
"But we bought them out," said Dr. Gwyn Parry, Hoag's director of community medicine. "We've got another 3,000 doses on order, but we won't know until Tuesday or Wednesday whether we will have the supply."
The following is a list of other Hoag flu-shot clinics. Up-to-date information can be obtained by calling (800) 514-4624.
* Friday, 7 a.m. to noon, Hoag Health Center--Fountain Valley, 18255 Brookhurst St. (south of Talbert Avenue); also 1 to 5 p.m., Hoag Health Center--Huntington Beach, 19852 Beach Blvd. (at Yorktown Avenue).
* Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Hoag Health Center--Aliso Viejo, 26671 Aliso Creek Road (in the Aliso Viejo Town Center).
* Sunday, Nov. 19, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Hoag Health Center--Costa Mesa, 1190 Baker St. (at Fairview Road).