MIDDLEBURY — Outside of the Middlebury American Legion post on Boardman Street, people began lining up as early as 8 a.m. on Tuesday for the state’s first public H1N1 vaccine clinic, which drew hundreds from all over Vermont to Middlebury in search of the vaccine.
But at least 150 people were left out in the rain when the clinic — armed with just 300 doses of the H1N1, or “swine flu,” vaccine — swiftly ran out of the product. Between 450 and 500 people were estimated to have turned out for the event, some coming from as far away as Montreal.
Addison County Home Health and Hospice organized the clinic. While the first school vaccination clinics took place last week, the Tuesday event was the first open to the general public.
The vaccine clinic was geared toward high-risk individuals — pregnant women, medical professionals, children and young adults age six months to 24 years, adults up to 64 with chronic medical conditions, and caretakers for young infants.
But Addison County Home Health and Hospice Executive Director Larry Goetschius said his staff was trusting that people in line did in fact qualify for “high risk” status, and weren’t checking doctors’ notes or medical records to verify that information.
Tuesday’s allotted vaccine shipment included just 300 doses — 100 in the form of a dead virus injection, and 200 in the form of a nasal spray. Goetschius said that amount was based on the population of Addison County, and that later clinics would hopefully have more doses.
But Addison County residents in line outside of the Legion were joined by dozens from all over Vermont. Before the clinic, Goetschius also fielded calls from vaccine-hunters from Massachusetts, New York, Canada and New Hampshire.
Joanne Wechsler of Jericho was in line with her two sons, 10-year-old Jacob and 13-year-old Adam. Adam, she explained, has muscular dystrophy. If he comes down with the flu, he would be at an increased risk of serious complications.
Adam’s school had scheduled an H1N1 vaccine clinic for last week, but the clinic was canceled due to vaccine shortages.
“If my kids were little, I could just keep them home,” Wechsler said.
Given the long lines, clinic officials began registering those waiting several hours early, and began administering vaccines around 3 p.m.
News came down the line shortly before 4 p.m. — the time the clinic had originally be scheduled to start — that the limited doses of the injection were going fast. Many in line — including pregnant women and individuals with diseases like asthma — weren’t eligible for the live virus nasal mist.
Then, word spread that the injections had finally run out. Dozens of people left the line.
That meant Adam was out of the running for the shot, Wechsler explained. She and her sons stayed in line, though, and hoped that Jacob could receive the nasal mist.
At the very least, she explained, that would be one less person who could bring the disease into her house.
But she’s frustrated that there isn’t any priority being given to individuals with certain diseases, and she expressed concern that enough information isn’t going out in advance of clinics. Had she known so few doses of the vaccine would be available at the Middlebury clinic, she said, she would have pulled her boys out of school and shown up much earlier in the day.
“I’ve been on the phone to a lot of people,” Wechlsler said. “I’m very stressed.”
Nearby, Susan Lybeck waited beside the Wechslers. Lybeck had made the trip from West Haven. She said the clinic lines were a bit of déjà vu, and called to mind the polio vaccine clinics she’d attended as a child.
Those in line didn’t have any concerns about the safety of the vaccine, only about its availability. Danby resident Lisa Hall said she’d initially been worried about the shot, but now she’s just focused on finding a dose for her 13-year-old daughter, Haley, who has cystic fibrosis.
Down the line, Phil Robertson from Hardwick waited in line with his son. He drove two hours to Middlebury, and hoped to receive shots for both himself and his son. When Robertson heard the news that the injection had run out, he reluctantly stepped out of line to start the drive home again. His next stop, he said, will be Colchester’s clinic on Saturday.
That was the plan many others in line advocated. Many said they’d be hitting other vaccine clinics around the state until they manage to get a shot.
In Addison County, additional clinics are slated for Nov. 18 in Vergennes from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Addison County Eagles Club, and in Middlebury on Dec. 1 at the Legion. Both clinics will, like Tuesday’s event, focus on vaccinating high-risk groups.