Thousands of people swamped the phone lines at the Spokane Regional Health District on Monday to schedule appointments for vaccinations against the H1N1 virus.
The health district expected to fill 2,000 appointments by phone starting Monday and was booked nearly solid by midmorning, although a few appointments remained. The massive volume of calls prompted some people to express frustration, as they waited to get through.
Monday was the first day the health district began accepting appointments for “at-risk” priority patients seeking a swine flu vaccination. Only the nasal spray form of the virus is available for now, officials said.
Health officials urged those who don’t get an appointment now to be patient.
“We have a lot of other opportunities coming for people to get the vaccine,” said Julie Graham, health district spokeswoman, noting that the health district expects the injectable form of the vaccine to arrive soon.
In addition to the phone-in appointments, another 2,000 doses of the nasal spray are being reserved for several clinics planned by the health district in the coming weeks. About 700 more went to the Spokane Guilds’ School and other child care centers.
Only people in high-risk groups identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are eligible for the vaccination, officials said. Those include:
•People who live with or care for infants younger than 6 months old.
•Health care and emergency medical workers.
•Anyone ages 2 to 24 years old, in good health, without underlying health conditions.
Children younger than 2 and pregnant women, while also in the high-risk category, must wait until the district has a supply of vaccination in injection form. The nasal spray contains a dose of the live virus, which isn’t advised for those groups.
The restrictions on who qualifies for the H1N1 vaccine has sent others flocking to local pharmacies and doctors’ offices in search of the seasonal flu vaccination, officials said. But they may be out of luck. “We’re out,” Graham said of seasonal flu shots.
The CDC has placed a priority on the manufacturing and distribution of the H1N1 vaccine, causing shortages of the seasonal flu vaccine, officials said.
Rite Aid pharmacies announced Friday they were canceling seasonal flu clinics scheduled to begin today in stores in several Western states, including Washington and Idaho, because of a shortage of seasonal flu inoculations.
Rockwood Clinic reported a rush of patients seeking seasonal flu shots and was experiencing a shortage.
Group Health Cooperative in Washington said it purchased enough seasonal flu vaccinations for its members but expected to provide some vaccines to nonmembers, especially people in households with priority patients and to make it easier on families with children.
“You want to get them while you’ve got them,” said Kirk Williamson, Group Health Eastern Washington spokesman. “If they are in the clinic, and they meet the criteria, we are going to offer it. … We think this is the best way to protect people.”