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A long day and long lines at Glendale swine flu clinic

About 2,500 waited for vaccinations, with some having lined up in the early morning hours. The crowds at county clinics are common as the insured have been unable to get shots from private doctors.

November 04, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

By 3 a.m. Tuesday, the line for H1N1 flu vaccines was forming outside the Glendale Civic Auditorium. By the time the doors opened 6 1/2 hours later, city officials said about 2,500 were waiting.

Long lines at public flu clinics -- initially intended to primarily serve the uninsured -- are now commonplace nationwide as doses of the vaccine remain scarce. Many clinics report seeing large numbers of people who have insurance but have been unable to get H1N1 vaccines from private doctors, who say they have either already run out or have yet to get any.

The line at the Glendale clinic, the first to be held in that city since Los Angeles County received doses late last month, was the longest yet, county Department of Public Health officials said. And the stakes were high, with just 2,400 doses on site when the doors opened.

Some of the first in line received green wristbands, but no guarantee of vaccination. Pregnant women -- considered among the highest at risk for serious complications -- got blue wristbands and their own, far shorter, line. The rest -- including parents with newborns, elderly women with walkers and disabled teens in wheelchairs -- were left to wait with little shade as temperatures reached into the 90s.

About 20 nurses walked the line to screen out the ineligible. The county, after facing criticism in the first days of the free clinics for lax guidelines, has focused the limited supply on pregnant women, caregivers of babies younger than 6 months, those ages 6 months to 24 years, healthcare workers and those ages 25 to 64 with health conditions that put them at higher risk of developing complications from the flu.

As they waited, strangers shared food, chairs, umbrellas and portable DVD players. Children played with coloring books and tossed a football on the grass as a dozen police and firefighters looked on.

"I never expected this," said Anne Benavides, 63, of La Crescenta, who has asthma and came to get the vaccine for herself and her 4-year-old twin granddaughters. "People are scared -- just look."

Three people in line suffered dizziness and fatigue and had to be taken to a hospital, police said. A few became irate when they reached the front of the line only to be told that they did not qualify, but no one was arrested.

Gossip made its way through the crowd: reports of people cutting in line, that the clinic had run out of vaccine and that those waiting had come from as far as Tijuana. As the line grew, some people took it upon themselves to challenge whether others were eligible. Fire officials dubbed the inquisitors "line lawyers."

Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county's public health director, arrived about noon to help screen.

"We're in the same situation private providers are in -- either we haven't gotten it or we got too little," he said, telling frustrated families that his staff was vaccinating as many people as it could, about 300 an hour.

Then word came that the clinic had run out of H1N1 shots, although they still had the nasal vaccine, FluMist.

Sylvia Denlinger, 53, of Eagle Rock had been advised not to get the nasal mist because she has asthma. She left unsure what to do.

"I don't want to go to another clinic and have the same thing happen," she said.

Dozens left and a wooden barrier went up to cut off new arrivals. Those still in line waited to see if the supply of nasal mist would hold out. About an hour later, officials said they had received 500 additional flu shots, and the line expanded again.

Not long before the clinic closed at 3:30 p.m., Suzanne Geiger, 40, of Altadena and her husband, who have a 4 1/2-month-old daughter, got vaccinated. They'd been waiting since 9:30 a.m.

"It's been about patience," said Geiger, a production manager for the ABC drama "Brothers & Sisters."

By day's end, 9,500 had been vaccinated at county clinics, health officials said. Clinics are scheduled through Sunday and more may be announced in coming days, officials said, although it remained unclear when the county's next vaccine shipment would arrive. --

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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