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Thousands vaccinated at Pa. H1N1 clinic

November 21, 2009

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- People snaked their way through a maize of plastic poles and yellow caution tape. At times, they were 400 deep Friday and Saturday outside the building serving as a temporary clinic for H1N1 vaccinations.

More will be back today.

There were older couples and singles. About half were families with children.

They came mostly from Franklin County and the three counties that abut it -- Fulton, Adams and Cumberland -- for free swine flu vaccinations.

Depending on their age and medical condition, the medicine was administered through needles or nose spray, said Sharon Smith, district nurse administrator with the Pennsylvania Department of Health's South Central District Office in Harrisburg. The district covers 13 counties.

"We're trying to target these (four nearby) particular counties for people with the highest risk," Smith said. "We won't turn someone away if they come in from Maryland or any place. There are no boundaries."

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Walk-ins will be taken care of, but only after those who are registered, Smith said.

Appointments are set up in one-hour time frames for those who registered. It's during those periods when hundreds line up outside the building waiting their turn, Smith said.

The clinic urges people to register before coming in, even for today's clinic, by logging on to the Web site at www.H1N1inPA.com. The process is simple, Smith said.

The clinic was allotted 7,700 doses of the vaccine for the three-day clinic. It is supplied by the federal government, along with needles and other supplies, Smith said.

"We won't run out," she said.  

The building at 450 Cleveland Ave. housing the clinic once served as a WIC food program. It has 12 small partitioned-off rooms that lend themselves to individual vaccination stations, Smith said.

Smith estimated about 1,100 people were vaccinated Saturday between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. and another 1,500 during Friday's clinic between 2 and 8 p.m. Today's clinic hours are 2 to 8 p.m.

The Chambersburg clinic is one of 18 set up around the state.

About half of those vaccinated were children, one of the age groups most susceptible to the H1N1 virus.

"There were a lot of kids here today," said Jon Dale, director of the Division of School Health for the state health department.

Among others at risk of catching the virus are people 6 months to 24 years old, pregnant women, health care providers and emergency medical personnel, and people younger than 65 with such health conditions as asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart and kidney disease, and neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders.

Babies under 6 months old are too young for the vaccine, so Smith urges those who care for them, such as parents, grandparents and others who come in close contact with them, to get vaccinated.

"We're trying to make a little cocoon around the little babies by protecting those who are around them," she said.

Smith said the department pulled in a lot of staff to handle the number of people who came for vaccinations. Twenty health department staffers, nurses and paramedics are working at the clinic, plus another 20 community volunteers, including members of the local emergency management agency, she said.

The clinic does not administer Tamiflu, the antiviral that is supposed to lessen the severity of H1N1 if it's given within 48 hours of the onset of the flu.

"We're trying to prevent the flu, and the vaccine is the best method to do that," she said.

H1N1 is spread person to person through coughing, sneezing and touching objects contaminated with the virus. Most affected people feel better in a week, but some can get pneumonia or need to be hospitalized. The disease can be fatal.

Smith offered several simple suggestions to avoid the flu, such as frequent hand washing, coughing and sneezing into a sleeve instead in the hands, keeping surfaces clean, keeping hands off the face and staying home if affected to avoid spreading the flu to others.

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