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H1N1 clinics put on hold

Vaccine demand high as shortage has region’s health districts shuffling

Health officials are postponing H1N1 vaccinations across the Inland Northwest, as shipments of the vaccine fall further and further behind.

On Tuesday, the Spokane Regional Health District postponed three clinics scheduled for next week, and reorganized two major weekend clinics. In North Idaho, vaccinations planned at schools in five counties were postponed for a week, because of delayed vaccine shipments.

The shortages come as the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the illness are rising, and as public demand is intensifying.

“This is disappointing for everyone,” Dr. Joel McCullough, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District, said in a news release. “Although we know that vaccine production can be impacted by many variables, we were told that by this time we would have a supply that would allow us to hold our planned clinics. We wish we knew exactly when and how much of the vaccine will arrive in our community.”

The shortages are tied to unforeseen delays in production of the vaccine, and the shortfalls are dramatic. The Spokane health district had been told to expect some 90,000 doses of the vaccine by now. It’s received about 22,000.

“Basically, we have received a drop in the bucket compared to how many we were told we would have,” said Julie Graham, district spokeswoman. “It’s a pretty massive difference.”

Development of the vaccine has been much slower than originally projected. Federal officials predicted in July that around 160 million doses of the vaccine would be available in October – just enough to cover those considered at the highest risk. By mid-August, those predictions had plummeted to 45 million.

This week, around 22 million doses were distributed nationwide.

The shortages are creating a scheduling nightmare for public health workers. Three Spokane clinics planned for next week have been put on hold, and plans for two large weekend clinics have been changed, the health district announced Tuesday.

Those two clinics, planned as walk-in events on Nov. 7 and Nov. 14, have been changed to appointment-only clinics.

People who already have appointments at the Spokane health district will still receive the vaccine. The district, which is overseeing the distribution of all H1N1 vaccine in Spokane, is continuing to distribute limited amounts of the vaccine to hospitals and doctors for the treatment of people at the highest risk.

The vaccine shortages tripped up planning in North Idaho this week, as well. The Panhandle Health District postponed school vaccinations in five counties. The vaccinations will resume Nov. 9 and Nov. 10 in 15 schools with elementary-age children, the health district said. Vaccinations of middle and high school students were postponed until early December.

Demand for the vaccines has been high. Spokane health workers vaccinated more than 2,100 people at a clinic Saturday at the Spokane Arena and have vaccinated hundreds of high-risk patients at scheduled appointments.

In North Idaho, nearly 1,500 people were vaccinated Saturday. More than 6,000 people called in an attempt to get in line for those vaccinations, which went to those considered at the highest risk, including pregnant women, children and people caring for young kids, health care workers and people with chronic health problems.