5,000 get H1N1 vaccine in Snohomish County

STANWOOD — Tiffanie Loper got up at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and drove 107 miles to be at the front of the line to get a swine flu immunization.

Loper, who lives near Fort Lewis, said she had tried to get the vaccination closer to her home in Pierce County, but couldn’t find any place where it was available.

She arrived at Heritage Park at 7:44 a.m. By the time the event kicked off a little after 9 a.m., about 55 cars were queued up behind her.

Stanwood was one of nine sites in the county where the vaccine was offered Saturday, but the only location with drive-through service.

Only children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years and pregnant women could get the shot. These groups are at greatest risk of developing serious health complications, such as pneumonia, or dying from swine flu.

Loper came ready with proof that she was pregnant, an ultrasound picture sitting on her dash of the infant growing inside her.

In Monroe and Mill Creek, people initially waited up to an hour and half to get the vaccine, but lines began to diminish at all sites about 90 minutes after the event’s 9 a.m. start.

Extra staff was added at Providence Physician Group’s Mill Creek clinic to administer the vaccine, going from seven to 11 lines. That allowed about 500 people to be vaccinated in an hour, said Preston Simmons, chief operating officer for Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, the clinic’s parent organization.

Some 17,000 doses of the vaccine were available Saturday. An estimated 5,000 doses were dispensed by day’s end. The vaccine was administered using both nasal spray and traditional injections.

There were no reports of medical problems at any of the nine sites, said Suzanna Pate, Snohomish Health District spokeswoman.

Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said he was disappointed that more people didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to be immunized.

However, the events showed how well, and how quickly, public health, medical groups and emergency-response agencies throughout the county can organize such events, he said. “It was an invaluable learning experience.”

The public vaccination clinics were originally scheduled for Oct. 31. But on Thursday, with more vaccine arriving in Snohomish County than anticipated, planners scrambled to hold the events a week earlier.

Organizers won’t know until the middle of next week whether another round of public vaccination clinics, scheduled for Halloween, will take place, Goldbaum said.

They want to quickly get the vaccine out to other groups at high risk of serious health problems from swine flu, including children and young adults from 5 to 24 years old, those between the ages of 25 and 64 years old with chronic health conditions, teachers and child-care workers.

The vaccine clinics may take place as scheduled, or doses may simply be delivered to medical clinics, Goldbaum said.

One advantage of the so-called mass vaccination clinics is it prevents healthy people from mixing with those who may have the flu, as might happen in medical offices, he said.

At Stanwood, paramedics and other members of the fire department had begun erecting two tents Friday night so that adults and kids could be inoculated while sitting in their cars.

A big rainstorm blew through about 6 p.m., with wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph.

“Both tents, the wind started to lift them up,” said Stanwood Assistant Fire Chief Darrin Reid. “We spent about an hour getting everything tied down.”

Although some parents worry about either getting the vaccine themselves or having their children vaccinated against swine flu, thousands of moms-to-be and young kids lined up Saturday to get the vaccine.

Tracy Scharf of Stanwood works as a nurse. She said the vaccine has led to big discussions among moms she knows. Some are going to have their children vaccinated but others are nervous or are unsure about what to do, she said.

Scharf had her own two children, ages 1 and 4, with her in the car on Saturday, waiting to get the vaccine.

“I want to get them protected,” she said. “At this point, I’d rather take the risk of getting (the vaccine) than not getting it.”

Rochelle O’Brien of Arlington brought her 7-month-old son, Caleb, to be vaccinated. “Our doctor explained it so well,” she said. “Better safe than sorry.”

Jordan Bower of Everett said she came to Stanwood because of the convenience. “We liked the idea of the drive-through,” she said.

Kristin Engstrom of Stanwood said she thinks a lot of people are getting their information about the vaccine from the Internet.

“I think a lot of people are making decisions based on poor information,” she said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, salyer@heraldnet.com.

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