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UPDATED: County halts swine flu shots for SCV; seasonal shots still on at COC drive-through Friday

Posted: October 27, 2009 10:15 p.m.
Updated: October 28, 2009 12:09 p.m.
 
LOS ANGELES - County officials on Tuesday said they have only enough swine flu vaccine to immunize a tiny fraction of those in the high-risk group, forcing them to scrap plans for a Santa Clarita Valley vaccination clinic this month.

"The current supply of swine flu vaccine is inadequate," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The county has nearly 300,000 doses of H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine. That will come far short of inoculating the nearly 5.5 million county residents counted in the risk group, Fielding said.

However, the city of Santa Clarita, the county health department and College of the Canyons will hold its scheduled seasonal flu vaccination clinic at COC's Valencia campus on Friday.

A drive-through flu shot production line will be set up in the campus parking lots off Rockwell Canyon Road, with shots being dispensed from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., or as long as the vaccine lasts.

Fielding's announcement about the H1N1 vaccine shortage comes days after the county kicked off a two-week vaccination effort.

Fielding also said delays in delivering the vaccine caused the county to cancel 30 county-operated vaccination centers that were scheduled to start inoculating high-risk residents in mid-October, including one in the SCV.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was late in delivering the 300,000 swine flu vaccines to Los Angeles County.|

Freedman didn't comment on why the Santa Clarita Valley location was chosen, but told the Board of Supervisors that the closure of vaccination centers was evenly distributed throughout all five supervisorial districts.

The closest county vaccination center to Santa Clarita was in Acton, which was scheduled to distribute the H1N1 vaccine on Tuesday.

The next H1N1 vaccination clinic in northern Los Angeles County will be at George Lane Park in Quartz Hill on Sunday.

Keeping students informed
Locally, officials have been fighting the swine flu in other ways, such as kicking off educational campaigns encouraging hand-washing.

Many of the 25,000 students at College of the Canyons, for instance, have been exposed to "Dr. Link" - the college's swine-flu mascot.

Dr. Link - as in sausage - is a man wearing a pig mask and a white lab coat, and he's the star of COC's health and wellness posters that have been put up in restrooms, locker rooms and common areas on the Valencia and Canyon Country campuses, COC spokesman John McElwain said.

So far, more than 200 posters promoting hand washing and cleanliness have been put up with plans to put a second version of the posters in 250 locations, he said.

"H1N1 is real and you don't want people to be fearful, but you want them to be informed against the backdrop of something that could be serious," he said.

On Friday, the college is holding a drive-through flu shot clinic from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at its Valencia campus. But the vaccines there will be for seasonal flu only, and no H1N1 vaccines will be available. Organizers anticipate giving more than 1,000 shots during the event.

In the William S. Hart Union High School District, the message of handwashing and proper sneezing etiquette is being reinforced, said spokeswoman Pat Willett.

Students with a fever are sent home and cannot return to school until they've been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication, she said.

"This is standard cold and flu season," she said.

During a conference call with the media Tuesday afternoon, Fielding didn't rule out the possibility that a vaccine center could be set up in the SCV in the future.

"I can't tell you specifically when and where," he said. "We realize the importance of Santa Clarita as a large city."

With 65 deaths from swine flu in Los Angeles County this year, and an expected uptick in swine flu infections this winter, county officials are scrambling to get as many people vaccinated as possible, Fielding said.

Hospitals and private doctors received 220,000 doses to vaccinate their patients with, while the county is administering 85,000 vaccinations.

The county began administering vaccines on Friday and the demand has grown each day, Fielding said.

"The lines (at vaccination centers) have gotten longer and the demand has grown greater," he said.

With the demand for swine flu vaccines not expected to wane, county officials have actually canceled a broadcast advertising blitz to encourage people to get the vaccine.

"We pulled the ads because the demand is at a level that we don't have enough vaccine," Fielding said.

The risk group includes: infants under 6 months old, pregnant women, adults 65 and older and those between 25 and 64 years old who suffer chronic health problems such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system.

H1N1 symptoms are generally the same as the common flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Many people infected with the H1N1 virus report diarrhea and vomiting.

Each year, in the United States, an average of 36,000 people die from flu-related complications and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At vaccination centers across the county, health officials are asking those who are not in the risk group to forego the vaccine in an effort to save enough for those in the high-risk groups, Fielding said.

"People understand that they would be taking away the vaccine from someone who needs it," he said.

Fielding told the Board of Supervisors all is the news is not so grim in fighting the swine flu.

"We are expecting another 94,000 doses of the vaccine at the end of the week," he said.

bcharles@the-signal.com
tmarashlian@the-signal.com

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