Locals line up for H1N1 vaccine

Fewer than were expected got the vaccine; officials say some likely expected extended waits
Sylvia Schmeling, 73, center, completes a form Wednesday while waiting her turn to be immunized against the H1N1 virus at the Jackson County public health offices in Medford.Bob Pennell

MEDFORD — There was plenty of vaccine to go around Wednesday when Jackson County opened its first public H1N1 immunization clinic since restrictions were lifted on who could receive the vaccine.

Officials opened the doors at about 8:20 a.m. when a line of people stretched outside the public health offices at 1005 E. Main St. Four nurses were administering vaccine, and by 9:30 most were waiting 10 minutes or less to be immunized.

If you go

What: Immunizations for the H1N1 virus, open to all

When: 8:30 to 11 a.m. today

Where: Jackson County public health offices, 1005 E. Main St., Medford

Cost: Free

Vaccine will be available again from 8:30 to 11 a.m. today at the public health office.

Health department managers had organized a processing system to shorten the wait. People in line were handed clipboards to fill out paperwork while they waited, and asked to roll up a sleeve to have an arm ready when their turn came for the injection.

"The line is real efficient," said Wayne Struble, 83, of Medford.

Like Struble, many people in the line were older folks who could not get the vaccine while it was administered only to priority groups that included children, young adults and pregnant women.

"We expected the older group to be here," said Viki Brown, the county's director of public health services. Brown said many older people who have become accustomed to getting their seasonal flu shots had been calling the county seeking vaccine.

"I thought there would be more (people in line)," said Sylvia Schmeling, 73, of Ashland, who found 60 to 70 people ahead of her when she arrived at the clinic at 8:30 a.m.

Brown said some people may have stayed at home Wednesday fearing long wait times.

By the time the clinic closed, nurses had vaccinated about 300 people, she said.

State public health officials lifted restrictions on access to the vaccine last week as supplies increased and the incidence of illness subsided. They encouraged people of all ages to get immunized to protect themselves in case the virus returns again during the winter.

The H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, is a new strain that first appeared in the spring and spread rapidly around the world. Some people older than age 50 have some immunity to it, but most people have no natural resistance.

Since Sept. 1, 1,278 Oregonians have been hospitalized with influenza, including 104 in Jackson County. Sixty-three people have died, including two Jackson County residents. Among the 54 deaths for whom information is available, 52 had some other underlying medical condition such as obesity or lung disease.

Flu cases in Oregon peaked in mid- to late October, and the number of cases per week has declined steadily, according to data collected by the state Department of Human Services.

Brown said the county had several thousand doses of vaccine on hand, including injectable vaccine for adults and inhalable vaccine for children. More vaccine was expected to arrive during the week, she said. Additional public clinics could be scheduled on the basis of how much vaccine arrives locally.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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