The Bangor area’s first public flu vaccine clinic got underway Thursday morning at the Bangor Civic Center with a coalition of area health agencies working together to vaccinate about 400 residents by the end of the morning session.
But behind the scenes, organizers scrambled to get their hands on enough vaccine and complained that a promised supply of more than 700 state-purchased vaccine doses had failed to materialize.
“We were expecting some state vaccine that didn’t come through,” said organizer Patty Hamilton, director of the City of Bangor’s public health nursing program.
Instead of the 700 doses she expected to have on hand for free or inexpensive distribution to low-income Mainers, the clinic opened for the day with just 80 state-purchased doses on hand.
Hamilton said the city had provided about 350 doses for people who could pay $25 or were covered by Medicare. By mid-morning, business was so brisk that she borrowed 100 additional doses from Eastern Maine Medical Center. She expected another 1,500 doses to arrive at her office by early afternoon.
Hamilton said no one left Thursday without a vaccine.
“I don’t think anyone knew we were near to running out,” she said. Still, she said, the scramble to secure enough vaccine, the need to track which doses came from where, and other bureaucratic obstacles created unnecessary confusion in what should have been a straightforward public health initiative.
“It should be simple, but we have a shotgun approach to a problem that needs an established public health response,” she said.
Those who came for a flu shot Thursday morning seemed unaware of the glitch. Ethel Lindsey, 79, drove from her home in Orrington and was among the first to arrive. Lindsey said she gets a flu shot every year. “I try to stay healthy,” she said.
Teresa Whitney, 38, said the flu vaccine has always protected her against the annual virus. The Bangor social worker said she arrived at her workplace, but before she could cross the parking lot a supervisor sent her to the civic center for a vaccine. The majority of people she knows and works with get a flu shot each year, she said.
Julian Jones, 85, combined getting the flu vaccine with casting an early ballot at the civic center polling station. “Two for one – I like that idea,” he said.
Dr. Dora Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday afternoon that the roughly 150,000 doses the state has purchased are arriving in installments, due to manufacturing hold-ups and the fact that the private, for-profit sector generally gets first dibs on what’s available. ?
“People may be able to get a vaccine at a supermarket flu clinic before they can get it at their health center,” she said.
The state uses federal CDC funds to purchase vaccine for low-income residents in the high-risk groups and distributes it to public health clinics, nursing homes and other providers.
Mills said that all ordered doses should be received in Augusta by the end of November, but it may mean some delays at public clinics scheduled earlier in the season.