Front Lines: Health Clinic Workers Fight Swine Flu
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We're going now, to the frontlines of the swine flu epidemic. Health workers face a lot of people demanding vaccines they, the health workers, don't often have. To get a better sense of what's happening, we reached out yesterday to four counties in four different states.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And we begin by calling a flu hotline in Marion County, Indiana - that's Indianapolis, the state capital - where they're attempting to answer people's questions.
(Soundbite of busy signal)
INSKEEP: Okay. So, first try it's busy. Maybe that in itself is an indication. We'll try again.
Ms. PAM TUVENALL(ph): Flu helpline. May I help you?
INSKEEP: Yes. Hi there, this is Steve Inskeep with NPR in Washington, D.C.
Ms. TUVENALL: Yeah.
INSKEEP: Who am I talking with?
Ms. TUVENALL: My name's Pam Tuvenall.
INSKEEP: Hi, Pam. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. I'm sure it's quite busy there.
Ms. TUVENALL: It is.
INSKEEP: In fact, we had to call once and the line was busy the first time.
Ms. TUVENALL: Oh, okay.
INSKEEP: Phones ringing off the hook?
Ms. TUVENALL: I would say they're coming in about every two or three minutes so…
INSKEEP: All day long?
Ms. TUVENALL: It has been that way for the last couple of weeks.
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
INSKEEP: And there's another call coming in the background.
Ms. TUVENALL: Yeah, I'll have someone else answer that one though.
INSKEEP: That's good. What kinds of questions are people asking?
Ms. TUVENALL: I would say they want to know where they can go to get the H1N1 vaccine.
INSKEEP: Just give me a location.
Ms. TUVENALL: Right. And our answer to that, right now, is we don't have any clinics scheduled this week to be able to tell them.
INSKEEP: There are no clinics scheduled this week?
Ms. TUVENALL: Right. We had seven clinics held last week.
INSKEEP: And this week, there's nothing. Is that a problem?
Ms. TUVENALL: Well, it's not what the health department would like. We would like to be able to get the vaccine out to more people, but we don't have any vaccine to give out.
INSKEEP: I'm trying to think - Marion County - that must be not quite a million people.
Ms. TUVENALL: Right. I would say about 870,000.
INSKEEP: Eight-hundred and seventy-thousand. And do you have any idea about how many doses of flu vaccine you've gotten in for the swine flu?
Ms. TUVENALL: I'm not sure, but at the clinics we held last week, we probably did close to 6,000.
INSKEEP: Not sounding like a high percentage of 870,000 people.
Ms. TUVENALL: Well, we're giving it out as we get it.
INSKEEP: Are you also getting, in some of the questions on the help line there, in Marion County, a sense of rumors spreading, that you have to tamp down?
Ms. TUVENALL: Um, yeah. The older population, those that are 65 years and older, they're a little surprised that they're not in the target population for the first wave of distribution.
INSKEEP: Oh, because younger people are more vulnerable.
Ms. TUVENALL: Yeah. But actually, I would say 99 percent of - after we explain to the older population what the distribution plan is - they understand.
INSKEEP: Okay. So, that's the view from a flu hotline in Marion County, Indiana, one of several places we're going to check in with here. And let's go now to the next state over, Ohio. There's a clinic there in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, where emergency personnel, I believe, are able to get their shots.
And we've got Cindy Modie on the line. She's a supervisor of vaccine services. Welcome to the program.
Ms. CINDY MODIE (Supervisor of Vaccine Services): Thank you.
INSKEEP: What's happening where you are?
Ms. MODIE: Well, we're hopping this morning, trying to finish up our EMS workers to come today and get their H1N1 vaccine.
INSKEEP: Are they the first to get it in Cleveland, because, obviously, they're exposed so much?
Ms. MODIE: They are. And we're still trying to get them done because there are so many of them here in Cuyahoga County. We have many teaching hospitals, many community hospitals. We're hoping, tomorrow and Wednesday, we're going to be moving on then to pregnant women.
INSKEEP: Now, let me make sure I understand that. So, you're just barely beginning to get to the general population.
Ms. MODIE: Yes.
INSKEEP: How calm have people been?
Ms. MODIE: Calm?
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Just wondering if that was a word that applied in any way.
Ms. MODIE: No, calm is not a word that I would be using - whether it's their tone of voice when we tell them, no, we are not vaccinating the general public on H1N1 right now, or the senior who either cannot find the seasonal flu and they're not a candidate for the H1N1 - so I think they're feeling a little left out right now.
INSKEEP: Well, Cindy Modie in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, I'd like you to stay on the line, because you mentioned the frustration as people try to find a slot where they can get any kind of vaccine. That makes me think of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where we're going next. We've got Becky Asher on the line. She's a registered nurse at a health clinic there. Welcome to the program.
Ms. BECKY ASHER (Registered Nurse): Hi, thank you.
INSKEEP: And I have a note here, saying that your clinic is appointment-based for the swine flu vaccine. What's that mean?
Ms. ASHER: That's correct. We're currently on sight at an H1N1 vaccine clinic, as we speak, and we have been using our phone bank operations to schedule appointments so that we can control the amount of people that are present in our clinics, based on the number of doses that we have available on any given day.
INSKEEP: So, you got any slots available in the next couple of days?
Ms. ASHER: No, we don't. All the slots are taken.
INSKEEP: Now, I'm just looking at a map here. Anne Arundel County includes Annapolis, the capital of Maryland. I know there's a lot of big suburbs of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. You've got a lot of people - do you have enough vaccine?
Ms. ASHER: Well, not yet, but nobody has a lot of vaccine yet. We've gotten about 4,000 doses. The population here in Anne Arundel County is nearly half a million. So, yeah, we're far short of where we need to be. But, you know, in any given year not everybody gets flu vaccine. We don't expect to vaccinate a half a million people.
INSKEEP: Becky Asher is in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. And we're going to go next to Florida - Hillsborough County, Florida - where the spokesman for the health department, the county health department is Steve Huard. Good morning.
Mr. STEVE HUARD (Spokesman, Health Department, Hillsborough County, Florida): Good morning to you. How are you today?
INSKEEP: I'm doing okay. What, as we speak here, are you focusing on when it comes to vaccinations?
Mr. HUARD: Well, I'm at Freedom High School in New Tampa. We've got about 300 students here today that are expecting to get their H1N1 vaccine, and then got a couple hundred more at the middle school next door. So, right now we're just trying to get some of the kids through the vaccination line and get them taken care of.
INSKEEP: Three hundred students, is that the full student population of Freedom High School?
Mr. HUARD: No, sir. That's how many permission forms we received back between Friday and then this morning, from parents saying that they've elected to have their child receive the vaccine here at school.
INSKEEP: I suppose that, given the experts say you don't need to have every single person vaccinated in order to be effective, that maybe 300 in one high school is a good step?
Mr. HUARD: Oh, you know, we hope to vaccinate about 60 percent of our population. As an H1N1 vaccine provider, we can just ship vaccines straight to the providers and then they're able to reach out to their communities and their client base.
INSKEEP: I assume that's the class bell at Freedom High School we just heard there?
Mr. HUARD: Yes, it is. I think lunch just ended.
INSKEEP: I want to do one other thing here, if I might, because our Maryland and Ohio guests are still on the line - Cindy Modie and Becky Asher. I don't know if any of you want to jump in and tell me what's on your mind.
Ms. MODIE: Hi. This is Cindy Modie from Cuyahoga County. It's rather reassuring that we're all in the same boat, here. We're all facing the same challenges with our communities and paddling upstream at the same time. So, makes me feel better.
INSKEEP: Becky Asher, you feel like you're paddling upstream in Maryland?
Ms. ASHER: Yeah, to a certain extent, sure. The biggest challenge is that the vaccine just isn't coming as quickly as we'd all like. So, we're working with it.
INSKEEP: Becky Asher, a registered nurse in Anne Arundel County, Maryland at a health clinic there, thanks to you.
Ms. ASHER: You're welcome. Thank you for having me on.
INSKEEP: Steve Huard is communications director for the Hillsborough County Health Department in Florida. Thank you.
Mr. HUARD: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And we also heard from the flu hotline in Marion County, Indiana, and also heard from Cindy Modie, supervisor of vaccine services in Cuyahoga County, Indiana. Thanks to you.
Ms. MODIE: Thank you very much.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: And we want to hear next from you. If you've got questions about swine flu or the vaccine, please email them to NPRflu@npr.org. We're going to answer many of your questions next week right here on the program.
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