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City Expects Swine Flu Vaccines This Week

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 08, 2009 - 12:28:00 PM
Pritam Singh, 72, gets a flu shot at the city's annual seasonal clinic Tuesday.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Pritam Singh, 72, gets a flu shot at the city's annual seasonal clinic Tuesday.

Berkeley health officials said Tuesday, Oct. 6, that the city is expecting its first shipment of H1N1 vaccines as early as this week. 

The first swine flu nasal spray vaccines were distributed in different states all over the country Tuesday. 

Although priority will given to groups more likely to get sick and have H1N1flu complications that could lead to severe illness and death, the city’s acting health officer, Dr. Janet Berreman, said anyone could get the vaccines through their private healthcare providers. 

Berreman said the city would first be vaccinating pregnant women, people who live with or care for infants younger than six months old, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, individuals between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, and people age 25 through 64 with chronic health conditions or weak immune systems. 

“As long as their demands are met, we will be opening up the vaccinations to every person,” she said. “We are expecting to get more shipments in the next few weeks. Both seasonal and swine flu vaccines will be available at our clinic on Sixth Street and University Avenue.” 

Berreman said the swine flu nasal spray vaccines were manufactured in the same way as the seasonal flu vaccines. She said that the city’s health division was closely monitoring the swine flu, which was just as widespread in Berkeley as in the rest of the Bay Area. 

Data on the California Department of Public Health website shows Berkeley had a total of seven hospitalizations as of Sept. 26, with one death. California has had a total of 2,510 hospitalizations during the same period, with 188 deaths. 

Berkeley Health and Human Services, which has a $26 million annual budget for 2010, is one of only three cities in California that have their own health jurisdictions. 

The department is currently looking for a new director, following Fred Medrano’s announcement that he will be retiring after 35 years. 

The city’s Public Health Division will also be working with the Berkeley Unified School District to immunize schoolchildren against the swine flu in the second or third week of November, Berreman said. 

She said that the district would be submitting the number of student absences to the city every week, so that health officials could track the course of the swine flu in public schools more efficiently. 

The district’s Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith told the Daily Planet that vaccination camps might be set up in the schools the week of Nov. 16. 

Berreman could not confirm the date but said more information would be made available in the following weeks. 

“We are still working on the specifics; we’ve yet to finalize plans,” she said. “We know that it will be available in all the public schools.” 

On Tuesday the city’s Public Health Division vaccinated as many as 2,274 people for seasonal flu, at no cost, within four hours at the Berkeley Adult School on San Pablo Avenue. 

The city of Berkeley’s public information officer Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, called the clinic procedure “an opportunity to practice a large-scale vaccination operation.” 

“It’s also a really important emergency preparedness exercise,” Clunies-Ross said. “It’s quite an operation, and certainly a timely one. And in this economy, a free flu shot might really help people stay healthy this winter.” 

Hundreds started lining up outside the adult school auditorium even before the gates opened for the flu shots to begin at 3 p.m.  

The clinic’s incident commander, Barbara Gregory, instructed her team—consisting of 60 to 80 Berkeley health department staff and 40 volunteers—to make sure everyone had filled out the pink form that determined whether a person was eligible for the intra-nasal spray mist or the injection vaccines.  

“The spray mist is great for people who are scared of needles,” Berreman said.  

Last year, the city vaccinated 1,300 people against the seasonal flu. 

Sunshine Pritchett, the first person in line to get vaccinated, said she takes advantage of the city’s vaccinations every year. 

“We needed the flu shots,” she said. “We just went and looked on the city’s website, filled out some forms, and here we are.” 

Pritchett said she would be back for the H1N1 shots. “It’s a pandemic—it’s safer to have it,” she said.  

Tori Borgas brought her 6-year-old daughter Terrie, who smiled the entire time UCSF student-nurse volunteer Anita Gossell applied the nasal mist in both of her nostrils with a syringe. 

“It’s an awesome clinic,” Borgas said smiling. “Once the line started moving, it was really fast.” 

Gossell said the mist was painless, and people breathed normally after it was applied. 

Most people praised the health department for creating a separate entrance on Carter Street for seniors and disabled community members. 

“They charged a nominal fee in previous years, but this year it’s free,” said Freida Smith, as she extended her left arm to get a shot. “It’s important, because we shouldn’t be spreading things to one another. I haven’t had the flu since I don’t know when, but I always get my flu shots. This was well organized.” 

Muriel Minnis, 91, leaned on Mary Smith’s arm for support as she walked out of the building after getting vaccinated. 

“I want to be protected,” she said. “I was a public health nurse for many years. I know how important it is.” 

Sorabjit Singh, 30, brought his entire family of seven, including his grandfather, Pritam Singh, 72, and his grandmother Ranjit Kaur, 66. 

Berkeley Adult School ESL teacher Barbara Andrews comforted her 1-year-old daughter, Lina Lorenz, as she burst into tears after getting vaccinated. 

“I come in contact with a lot of people, and I didn’t want to get sick,” she said. “This is the first time my kids have got the flu vaccine. I want them to get the H1N1 vaccine as well, because they are in the high-risk group.” 

Her son, Leo Lorenz, 5, put on a brave face as a volunteer gave him his shot. 

“They put it up my nose,” he said, pointing at his nose. “It tickled a little bit, but it was hardly nothing.” 

For more information or help finding immunizations, medical providers, and health insurance, including MediCal, call the City of Berkeley Public Health Division at 981-5300 and ask for the nurse of the day.