Chicago's H1N1 Vaccination Clinics: Inside the belly of the beast

October 28, 2009

It's clear that despite some jitters, many more people want the H1N1 swine flu vaccine than can get it so far. Reports from the first round of mass vaccinations in Chicago told of long lines, all-day waits and hundreds turned away. Round two came yesterday, and so I went. I was eager to witness the mass hysteria, riots and cannibalism sure to ensue, as people clamored for the scarce shots and nose spritzers. I did not find that. Instead, I found basically a bunch of pretty reasonable, patient people who understand that the health workers are doing the best they can with limited resources. That's not to say people weren't disappointed. I arrived at Truman College at about 4:00 p.m., just as they were starting to turn people away. The clinic was supposed to be open form 3:00 -- 8:00 p.m., to accommodate working stiffs who couldn't get there during the day. But all the doses were maxed out within an hour of opening the doors. H1N1 One reason that people seemed largely to take this in stride is the fact that people got a number when they arrived, and when the numbers ran out, people were simply told to come back next time. Whereas on Saturday some waited in line for hours before they learned there were no more doses, this time people knew as soon as they arrived whether they'd get the shot or not. Dr. Julie Morita, who heads up the immunization program for the Chicago Department of Public Health, told me earlier this week that this was a "lesson learned" from Saturday. My limited observations bear that out. At the site, there were a number of people in orange vests running crowd control and answering questions. I discovered that these are not just nurses and outreach workers: one was a psychologist. Another works in Accounts Payable. They are just people who work for the public health department who volunteered to help out with the big push. I'm told they maintained a little skeleton crew back at headquarters, and that most others were out lending a hand. It was sort of touching. H1N1_2 These clinics are scheduled to continue Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays indefinitely. Health officials are asking people who have a primary care doctor to get the vaccine at their doctor's office if you can, saving the city's doses for people who have no other option. Wait times will surely decrease as more people are vaccinated, but for now, expect long lines. And if you work weekdays, don't count on being able to take advantage of the evening hours for a while. Consider coming early -- very early -- on Saturdays. Also, don't forget that all these doses are still supposed to be going only to people in priority groups: young people age 6 months to 24 years, pregnant women, people caring for young infants, health care workers and people with underlying conditions. Find more information on getting vaccinated here.

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