The crowd extended down South Avenue, getting antsy with each waking moment, hoping to get in, to be one of those who could get what they came for. This was not a sale at a popular new store, but rather October's season flu clinic in Garwood.
Health Officer Megan Avallonesaid the clinic is an example of what seasonal flu clinics have been like and what she is hoping the H1N1 clinics will not be like starting Tuesday. Saying panic over the H1N1 flu, Avallone said more residents have been flooding seasonal flu clinics, more than doses are available, in order to obtain any type of vaccination.
In 2008, the Garwood clinic had 150 people show up, with more than enough vaccine to go around. Last month, the small borough's clinic, open to anyone in the eight towns served by the Westfield Regional Health Department, saw 500 people show up, more than there was vaccine available. Avallone said tempers started flying as those who could not get vaccinated demanded a dose. Avallone asked the borough's police for assistance, not the first time this year she had to reach out to the local police to help at a seasonal flu clinic.
"Garwood has never had that many people show up," she said.
The overrun of seasonal flu clinics is not just in the towns served by the Westfield department. Avallone said in Chatham, 300 people were left over after the doses ran out at a seasonal flu clinic.
Avallone said she understands the fear in many residents with the reports of H1N1 flu and the information flying around regarding the vaccine. She also knows the limited amount of vaccine will cause increased anger at clinics. The federal government has directed only the production of H1N1 vaccine, but the late start in production has caused only a limited supply to be produced to date. While vaccines will be promised to any American who wants one, it is likely that date will not come around until after Jan. 1. Until then doses are recommended for those in the targeted population.
"I am worried that when we start these clinics, that we will have panic because there are so few shots," Avallone said.
Because of the state's government traditions, any doses in New Jersey are delayed because of the bureaucratic highway that needs to be traveled to get the doses into the hands of local health officials. After leaving the federal government, the state and county health departments handle the doses before towns get them. This has caused New Jersey to lag behind other states in getting doses out.
"New Jersey residents are fed up with waiting," Avallone said.
Avallone said she is planning to use the lessons from the seasonal flu clinics to help for the H1N1 clinics, starting Tuesday night at the high school. She said crowd control measures will be put into place and she has been in contact with the police department to provide adequate security. She said since the seasonal flu clinics, which required three calls for police assistance, she is making security a top concern. In the season clinics, Avallone said she and her staff were verbally harassed by those who could not get the shots. Last week, Avallone warned Board of Health members from towns within the regional health department, that she will not subject her staff to threatening work conditions during H1N1 clinics.
Avallone said she is hoping for the best when the H1N1 clinics start up tomorrow. But she is also keeping the perspective of how much vaccine is available for this clinic and one on Nov. 16 at Summit High School.
"Unfortunately we will be in the same camp with H1N1," Avallone said.