State

Crowd lighter than expected at swine flu clinic

Fewer people than expected got a free vaccination Wednesday against the H1N1 influenza, although it did make things easier for participants.

For much of the day, there were no lines, no people standing in the cold, at the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency's mass vaccination clinic held at Centenary United Methodist Church on McHenry Avenue in Modesto.

It took Jared Hawkins three minutes to register and get jabbed with a needle.

"I was driving past and saw there was no line," the Modesto resident said. "I thought I would take advantage of it."

About 200 people were waiting outside the church when the doors opened at 9:45 p.m. A team of 100 staff and volunteers soon had them processed and immunized against the novel flu strain. The clinic got another surge after Modesto schools let out in the afternoon and by 4:30 p.m. had given shots to more than 2,000 residents.

Health workers were prepared to administer up to 10,000 shots at Wednesday's clinic. But swine-flu cases are in decline in Stanislaus County and people usually get their flu shots in November and December.

"Some folks have the false impression that after the Christmas holiday is too late for vaccinations," said Nancy Fisher, public health nursing director for the county.

She said the shots should afford protection if the H1N1 strain peaks again in February and March, which often is the worst time for seasonal influenza.

Stanislaus County had its first outbreaks of H1N1 in the summer and the number of cases exploded in the fall after schools were in session. While officials hope the worst is over, they fear that outbreaks could return between now and April.

Stanislaus County has reported 14 deaths related to the flu and nearly 200 people hospitalized.

About half those attending the clinic were adults from 19 to 64 years old, among the age groups hit hard by the virus. Children made up about 30 percent of the crowd; more than 300 seniors were vaccinated.

Many said they were unable to get the flu shot from their doctors.

"I have been waiting for three months," said Depak Paul, a Modesto resident who brought his family to the clinic. He especially wanted the vaccination for two young children, ages 3 and 5.

Efrain Ortega said he no longer is so concerned about the pandemic. But he was scared on a trip to attend a festival in Mexico during the epidemic there last spring. Although authorities canceled the festival, he said, he watched a parade scene in which the marchers and spectators along the street wore masks.

He wasn't able to get a flu shot amid the vaccine shortage before the holidays. "Even my doctor was upset that he couldn't get the vaccine," he said.

Delays in manufacturing caused a vaccine shortage nationwide, and most of the supplies shipped to Stanislaus County were given to people in high-risk groups before the holidays. But more vaccine available to the general public now.

Rite Aid and Walgreen pharmacies are selling the flu shots. The Health Services Agency will give free vaccinations Jan. 14 from noon to 6 p.m. at the Assyrian American Civic Center, 2618 N. Golden State Blvd. in Turlock, and additional clinics are planned for other communities.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.

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