Swine flu shots draw crowds in Snohomish County

EVERETT — As many as 30,000 people braved long lines and rain showers Saturday to get a shot in the arm or a spritz up the nose to ward off the swine flu.

Snohomish County and local health organizations administered the vaccine at 10 different locations around the county.

Some stood in line for more than four hours for a dose.

“With the scare of an epidemic taking place, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Allen Andrewin, 54, of Everett.

He got into line at 9 a.m. outside the Community Health Center of Snohomish County in south Everett and was finally nearing the door at 1:30 p.m. The line wound completely around the large building. Many of those waiting were parents with young children.

Crowds began massing as early as 3 a.m., waiting patiently for a chance to be immunized against the H1N1 virus. As many as 3,000 people were in line at one point at the Providence Physicians Group building near Mill Creek, said Teresa Wenta, a spokeswoman for Providence Everett Medical Center.

The Providence clinic and several other locations closed off the lines when it was feared there might not be enough vaccine, said Christopher Schwarzen, a spokesman for the county.

Some were reopened, some weren’t. Vaccine was shuttled from clinics with shorter lines to those with more people waiting, Schwarzen said.

The Providence location received about 1,500 more doses and the line was reopened after about 30 to 45 minutes, Wenta said

“It was really unfortunate for the people who left,” she said.

Later in the day, the lines dwindled and some had no wait at all.

“We walked right in,” said Julie Kerr, who brought her twin daughters, Sophie and Alex, 5, to the clinic about 2:30 p.m.

Preston Simmons, chief operating officer for Providence, estimated that by the end of the day, 4,000 people would be immunized at the site. A final count for all the locations won’t be available until about Tuesday, Schwarzen said. About 30,000 doses were available around the county.

In general, officials said the immunizations were an unqualified success.

“I think that it’s a remarkable medical story,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

“We have been able to demonstrate that we’ve got the ability to mobilize,” he said. “If we knew we had the vaccine, I think we could have mobilized for up to 100,000 doses of vaccine. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else — not in a county of comparable size.”

More vaccination days could still be scheduled, possibly for next Saturday, Wenta said. That won’t be known until midweek, she said.

The immunizations on Halloween were offered in Stanwood, Edmonds, Monroe, Everett, Snohomish, Arlington, Marysville, Tulalip and Mill Creek.

At Stevens Hospital in Edmonds, people began arriving at 3 a.m. and lines grew to an estimated 2,000 people later in the morning, said Steve Kaiser, hospital spokesman. Some people came from as far as Tacoma and Pierce County, he said.

When Dr. Yuan-Po Tu arrived at Evergreen Middle School in Everett at 7 a.m. to begin preparing for the flu shot clinic, there were 300 people in line. By the time they began administering the vaccine at 8:30 a.m., there were 700 people in line. “We knew we were going to have a big day,” he said.

Later, the line stretched out into the parking lot, down the block and into a cul-de-sac.

Despite long waits, people were patient and appreciative, he said. Some in line stopped him to talk. “They said I just wanted to thank you,” Tu said. “I didn’t even know who it was.”

Although similar mass vaccination clinics were held on Oct. 24, the vaccination was limited to pregnant women and young children. About 5,000 people were vaccinated, far less than hoped for.

A much broader group of people were eligible for the vaccination on Saturday, including teachers and child-care providers; anyone from 6 months through 24 years of age; household and caregiver contacts of children younger than 6 months of age; and people 25 to 64 years old who have medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart problems that put them at higher risk of complications from influenza.

“I’ve got a lot of tired nurses, medical staff and volunteers, but everyone is smiling,” Tu said as the flu shot clinic drew to a close Saturday afternoon.

“This is a phenomenal win for the people in our community.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439, sheets@heraldnet.com.

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