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Half prepared

October 14, 2004

Dave Brooks

Pam Wallace didn't just wait in line to get her flu shot -- she went

on a journey.

Before the Huntington Beach hygienist could receive her prick in

the arm, she had to follow a trail that began well outside of Sav-on

Drugs on Beach Boulevard and wound itself through the doorway, past

displays of Hostess cupcakes, model cars and bamboo plants, down the

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aisle with cold and flu medicine and eventually to a table where two

nurse practitioners gave shots to an endless stream of health care

workers and seniors.

The entire line was at most 100 feet long. It took her more than

an hour to finish.

"I work as a dental hygienist and I'm in people's mouth all the

time," she said. "I always make sure I get the shot. This is my

seventh year and I haven't gotten sick the last six years."

Long lines are in store for anyone searching for flu vaccinations

this year. Huntington Beach's main medical center, the Huntington

Beach Hospital, has no stockpile of flu vaccinations after a

manufacturing problem by one of the drug's main providers.

The shortage has left hospitals across the country without

vaccines, and many private pharmacies are doing what they can to meet

the demand. The result is long lines and fears about a flu outbreak.

"We've had problems with the supply in the past, but nothing like

this," said Huntington Beach Hospital Pharmacist Damian Woods. "This

is a disaster."

In years past, the hospital has purchased its vaccines from a

wholesaler that buys from Chiron, a Northern California-based

pharmaceutical manufacturer.

On Oct. 5, a British regulatory health agency halted operations at

the company's Liverpool plant citing manufacturing problems and

possible contamination. The plant was expected to produce 46-million

doses for the U.S. market; nearly half of the United State's supply.

"Basically you now have a 50-50 shot of getting a flu vaccine this

year," Woods said.

The vaccine would normally be given to health care workers and

patients at the hospitals, particularly those with immune

system-related illnesses or those older than 65. Each year, more than

200,000 Americans are hospitalized for the flu, and more than 36,000

people die from illnesses and complications related to it.

Flu vaccines are still available at private pharmacies, but

pharmacists are screening patients to get the vaccine to those who

need it most.

"We'll start with the most high-risk people," said head pharmacist

Sam Ghobry of the Drug Emporium on Brookhurst Street, which plans to

hold a clinic this Friday.

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