Many of the 44 pharmacies chosen by Public Health - Seattle & King County to distribute the vaccine to high-risk groups began scheduling appointments on Friday. Virtually all were booked within 24 hours, according to the health department Web site. Those that allow walk-ins have found people lined up hours in advance of the scheduled time, as a visit to Virginia Mason's Sandpoint Way pharmacy found yesterday morning. At the facility's adjacent clinic on Saturday, people started lining up at 4 a.m. By 8:40, forty minutes after the clinic opened, they were turning people away.
There seems to be little method to the madness. It would be great if the health department outlined a systematic approach, telling the public which of the various high risk groups (kids, pregnant women, health care workers, people with other illnesses) would be vaccinated first, second and so on. Instead, everybody has come running (or at least those hyper-vigilant enough to constantly check the health department Website for updates), and health officials have left it up clinics and pharmacies to decide who among the high-risk groups gets the vaccine. Some pharmacies, for instance, are vaccinating those 3 and up, some 9 and up, some 14 and up. It's a horribly confusing system to navigate.
Given that kids are one of the big high-risk groups, it would seem natural for the health department to use schools to communicate with parents and vaccinate kids in an orderly fashion. Matias Valenzuela, spokesperson for the King County's health department, says school clinics were "all part of the original plan." But that plan was scrapped, he says, because of unexpected delays in getting the vaccine from the federal government. "We don't have enough vaccine to fully implement that plan." (Maybe department officials will explain that to the high school journalists it is meeting for a H1N1 briefing today.)
But the vaccine shortage has not stopped other cities--among them, New York City, Baltimore and Tacoma--from setting up school clinics. Snobby as we are toward the metropolis to the south, the city appears to have its act together when it comes to H1N1. Unlike our health department, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department set a clear priority within the high-risk groups--kids--and chose several schools at which to deliver the vaccine free of charge, according to spokesperson John Britt. Although the plan has been scaled back due to the shortage, two schools have conducted vaccination clinics, including Clover Park High School, which vaccinated 1,300 kids on Saturday.
"There was plenty of vaccine," Britt says. In fact, health care workers brought back 1,000 doses that were unclaimed.