New York City Tests Mass Flu Vaccination New York City Health Department staged a flu-vaccination day this week. The vaccinations were an attempt to test the city's readiness to deliver pandemic flu medications en masse in the event of a bird-flu crisis.
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New York City Tests Mass Flu Vaccination

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New York City Tests Mass Flu Vaccination

New York City Tests Mass Flu Vaccination

New York City Tests Mass Flu Vaccination

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New York City Health Department staged a flu-vaccination day this week. The vaccinations were an attempt to test the city's readiness to deliver pandemic flu medications en masse in the event of a bird-flu crisis.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

President Bush's plan for dealing with a flu pandemic relies on state and local health departments to distribute vaccines. On the day he released that plan, New York City ran a test using conventional flu vaccines, and that's a chance for the rest of us to learn the challenges local health officials faced and what that means for the nation's readiness. NPR's Joanne Silberner reports.

Unidentified Woman #1: Flu shot?

Unidentified Man #1: Yes.

Unidentified Woman #1: Good morning.

Unidentified Man #1: Good morning.

Unidentified Woman #1: Second door on your left.

JOANNE SILBERNER reporting:

It's just past 7 AM. In a 750-seat auditorium in a shelter for homeless and runaway teens, New York City health officials are running a big experiment.

Unidentified Woman #2: Good morning, folks. Are you here for flu shots?

Unidentified Man #2: Yes.

SILBERNER: Officials want to be ready if avian influenza becomes more infectious and a vaccine becomes available. They're ramping up the scope of their routine flu vaccine clinics, running this one twice as long in a much bigger space. Mark Barbieri(ph), wearing a bright blue Department of Health jacket and a big wide smile, is at the front door.

Mr. MARK BARBIERI (Department of Health): I feel like 130 already.

Unidentified Man #3: Are you serious?

Mr. BARBIERI: It's not even 7:30. Unbelievable. It's going to be a good day.

SILBERNER: City officials put up signs, contacted senior centers and got the media to get the word out.

Mr. BARBIERI: Hopefully it helped. I think it has because people are coming.

SILBERNER: Isaac Weisfuse is in charge of planning.

Mr. ISAAC WEISFUSE: If we had to vaccinate a very large population for avian flu, we would be working these clinics in many, many sites across the city 24 hours a day.

SILBERNER: That means having enough vaccine on hand. That means at least two shifts of workers. The city regularly runs vaccination drills using city employees as stand-ins for the public. This time they're focusing on ordinary citizens.

Unidentified Man #4: I'm showing 7:23.

SILBERNER: And you've given out 180 tickets.

Unidentified Man #4: I sure have.

SILBERNER: By 8 AM, 500 people are waiting.

Unidentified Woman #3: Come back. Go have coffee and come back.

Unidentified Man #5: No, I'm close. I'm going to my other job.

Unidentified Woman #3: We'll hit you 9:00 tonight.

SILBERNER: At the back of the auditorium, people get numbers. When they're called, they fill out forms.

Unidentified Woman #4: Edna Beck, please print your name, sign and put the date.

SILBERNER: Then they go to vaccination stations on the auditorium stage.

Unidentified Woman #5: Which arm would you like, left or right?

Unidentified Woman #6: Left would be fine.

Unidentified Woman #5: Left will be fine. All right.

SILBERNER: Throughout the morning, the wait grows longer, nearly two hours. Freelance writer Mark Gabor is fed up.

Mr. MARK GABOR (Freelance Writer): The whole auditorium is full of people and it's obviously pretty badly organized. It's outrageous. I'm actually going to look for another place if I can.

SILBERNER: But most people take it in stride. Maynard and Katie Goldstein(ph), both 93 years old, are very pleased.

Mr. MAYNARD GOLDSTEIN: We were at the end of the line when somebody came up and said, `You don't wait in line. You follow me.' And she brought us right down to the front.

Mrs. KATIE GOLDSTEIN: It's a wonderful experience.

SILBERNER: More people are coming in than are leaving. Planners like Stephanie Factor realize they need to expand.

Ms. STEPHANIE FACTOR: All right. Triage staff, we are in extremis. We need to change shifts. So here's what we're going to do.

SILBERNER: They start setting up in the gym next to the auditorium. By late afternoon, the crowd hasn't diminished.

Unidentified Woman #7: You have about two hours' wait, OK? All right. But just make sure your paperwork is filled out.

Unidentified Woman #8: Yeah.

SILBERNER: In the early evening, the staffers have to cut people off.

Unidentified Man #6: Excuse me, sir, you can't come in.

Unidentified Man #7: Why?

Unidentified Man #6: Because they ain't giving anymore flu shots for the day. We have an abundance of people in there and we're just...

Unidentified Man #7: I heard this place is open till 9:00 tonight. It's not 9:00 yet.

Unidentified Man #6: They cut it off, sir.

SILBERNER: An exhausted Mark Barbieri is still out front.

Mr. BARBIERI: That's a little bit frustrating when you have seniors who have come from an hour away to get a flu shot and then you have to turn them away, but also the fact that we were able to serve thousands of people here today, I'm rejuvenated by that fact.

SILBERNER: Thirty-five hundred people were vaccinated today, quite an accomplishment. The head of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, Rex Archer, says many local governments would have a hard time doing such a mass vaccination drill. Many don't have enough money and he says there's a likely problem of pandemic flu that New York didn't have to face in this drill--not enough vaccine.

Mr. REX ARCHER (National Association of County and City Health Officials): The challenge is going to be what type of relationship does the local health department have with its various communities. Can it explain to them why it is giving vaccine out in a particular order to certain groups first and will people understand that and comply with it?

Unidentified Woman #9: Oh, my God, I'm glad it's all over. I'm glad it's all over. It's been a long day.

SILBERNER: Inside the vaccination center in New York City, after nearly 15 hours, the staff closes up.

Unidentified Woman #10: Thank you all so much for coming. You're wonderful.

(Soundbite of applause)

SILBERNER: Despite the long lines and having to turn people away, planners like Isaac Weisfuse are pleased.

Mr. WEISFUSE: We wanted to stress ourselves and I think we succeeded in doing that.

SILBERNER: They've learned they can do a shift change. They need more translators next time. They've got a dedicated staff that now has more experience in a tough situation.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Go to npr.org and you can find answers to some of the most common questions about the flu virus, including bird flu.

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