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San Bernardino County declares swine flu emergency

Local officials hope that by declaring an emergency, they will be first in line for vaccines and other resources when available. But other counties and the state long ago made the same declarations.

November 12, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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.

President Obama's declaration of a national H1N1 emergency last month came eight months after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide emergency.

Local health officials say that by declaring emergencies at their level, they hope to lay claim to more vaccines and other resources, or be reimbursed by state and federal officials for mass vaccination clinics and other efforts.

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

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, said 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 that 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 Department of Public Health.

Sicilia said state officials are working with officials in San Bernardino County 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.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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