Since the beginning of last spring there have been more than 2,000 reported cases of the swine flu, or H1N1 virus, in California, and more than 150 hospitalizations in Santa Clara County alone. The county even declared a state of emergency at the end of September in response to the pandemic influenza.
Naturally, many Mountain View residents have been taking that warning to heart.
"People have been showing up looking for (the H1N1 vaccine), and we don't have it yet," said Joy Alexiou, spokesperson for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
Alexiou said the first large shipment of vaccine is expected at the end of October or early November. More than 200,000 doses for the county are anticipated.
Alexiou, along with representatives from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and El Camino Hospital, said that although orders for the vaccine were made early on, delays in production have held up distribution.
"There's been a lot of rumors about (the shipment) being less, so we're waiting to find out," she said. The vaccine will be distributed among various health care providers and organizations throughout the county -- though likely not to drugstores or supermarkets. Alexiou said those wishing to get a vaccination should contact their health care provider, as the H1N1 vaccine will not be as widely available as the seasonal flu vaccine.
After the initial shipment, she said, the county expects to receive smaller weekly shipments through January.
"What we're expecting is that, in the next weeks and months, anybody who wants this vaccine would be able to get it," she said. "But at first, since the supply is somewhat limited, we are really looking to vaccinate those at highest risk for serious complications" people from 6 months old to 24 years old, pregnant women, and those with prior health complications.
Cynthia Greaves, spokesperson for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, said county health officials "are doing a competent job with a very complicated situation."
Greaves said PAMF received a "very limited supply" of the H1N1 vaccine earlier this month.
"We were providing it to our highest risk pediatric patients," as well as caregivers who work with infants under six months, she said. "It didn't seem fair to publicize such a limited availability that would be dedicated to those with the most significant risk."
When more vaccine does start to arrive, "pediatric patients who already have appointments will be offered the H1N1," she said. "As we have more quantity we will open it up to various patients" at PAMF clinics.
PAMF, which operates Camino Medical Group, has also run into problems obtaining the regular flu vaccine, as its production was halted to focus on making the H1N1 vaccine, Greaves said.
"PAMF placed its order with flu vaccine manufacturers ahead of schedule, but unfortunately we don't have control over when our supply is shipped to us by the manufacturers," she said. "We fully anticipated being able to provide vaccinations at our seasonal flu clinics based on the information we had in August and September."
Judy Twitchell, spokesperson for El Camino Hospital, said the hospital is also waiting on a shipment of the vaccine. She said officials at El Camino don't even know how much of the vaccine they will receive, though she emphasized the shots will probably first go to patients who being treated in the hospital and to health care providers with direct patient care.
If the hospital receives enough H1N1 vaccine, she said, there may be some available at the free RotaCare Clinic along with regular, seasonal flu shots.
Because young people have been the hardest-hit age group, Alexiou said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that children as young as six months old be given priority access to the first vaccine doses. High priority also is given to pregnant women, people with chronic or immune compromised conditions and health care workers who have direct patient care or who work with infants younger than six months old.
While the vaccine is provided for free by the federal government, some health care providers may charge an administrative or processing fee. Those without a primary health care provider can get vaccinated at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, which will be holding special vaccination days to be announced later this month.
Not at drugstores
Many people turn to local drugstores and pharmacies for their seasonal flu shots, but the H1N1 vaccine probably will not be available at these locations.
"Target doesn't currently have any vaccine at its retail locations," said Anne Zeltinger, a spokesperson for Target. "But we have partnered with all the appropriate state and county health agencies to acquire the vaccine once it becomes available to us in the retail channel."
"We do really hope to become a vaccination destination should we be able to get the vaccine," Zeltinger added.
Even those who get vaccinated for H1N1 are still encouraged to get a regular seasonal flu vaccination, Alexiou said. Seasonal flu vaccines are available through health care providers and at many pharmacies, drug stores and grocers in the area.
In the meantime, Alexiou repeated some simple but important advice: Wash hands frequently, keep common areas clean, and anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms -- fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, tiredness -- should stay home.
Those wishing to get vaccinated should contact their primary care physician or health care provider. For those at high risk who do not have a primary care physician, the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center will provide vaccines free of charge on specific dates to be announced. Check the following Web sites or call the county for updates:
Santa Clara County Public Health Department
Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention