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More than 3,000 get free H1N1 vaccine in L.A. County

Supplies are still short, but more public clinics are planned for uninsured people at high risk for swine flu. Other are urged to go to their doctors for the vaccine.

October 24, 2009|Seema Mehta

Two Los Angeles County public health clinics offering the swine flu vaccine opened Friday to overflow crowds, underscoring the intense public demand for a medicine that remains in short supply in Southern California.

At a clinic in Encino, 1,000 people formed an orderly line snaking from the sports complex, across the parking lot and past athletic fields. The first person in line, Alexa White of Reseda, arrived at midnight. The clinic opened at 9.

White has only one lung, which puts her at greater risk of complications from the flu.

Others who lined up later said they waited about three hours for the vaccine.

"Vaccine is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of flu," said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county's public health officer.

But finding the vaccine has been frustrating for many people.

Shipments have been slow to arrive, frustrating physicians and patients. California has received 1.7 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, out of 20 million expected this season.

Though the clinics were ostensibly for the uninsured, county health officials decided to provide vaccines to anyone who falls into a priority group: pregnant women, those from 6 months to 24 years old, adults between the ages of 25 and 64 who have chronic health problems and health workers.

A lot of people are frustrated and concerned by the lack of vaccine. I can't blame anybody for that," Fielding said.

More than 3,000 vaccinations were given at the two clinics on Friday, he said, and some pregnant women opted not to get the shots after the county ran out of thimerosal-free vaccine.

More clinics are scheduled over the weekend and in coming weeks. A list can be found at www.publichealth.lacounty .gov/.

Health officials urged people with insurance to get the vaccine from their healthcare providers once it becomes available. Some physicians have delayed flu clinics because they haven't received vaccine.

"We planned to do a Saturday [clinic] where we could have everyone come in en masse and get their vaccinations, but that's just not possible right now," said Dr. Dawn Bruner, who works at a pediatric practice in Tustin.

The practice has put up a blog to keep patients updated about the vaccine supply. On Friday, a blog post titled "NO H1N1 Yet" said they had no swine-flu vaccine injections and a very limited supply of nasal-mist for healthy children over the age of 2.

The blog urged patients to check back to see if the clinic received any vaccine before concluding, "Remember . . . wash your hands!"

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II and photographer Mark Boster contributed to this report.

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