Island battles flu outbreak, but a clinic runs out of vaccine

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Demand proved greater than supply at an emergency flu clinic Sunday at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Island residents began lining up more than an hour before the scheduled 9 am opening, and the supply of free vaccinations was gone two hours before the scheduled 2 pm closing.

Health care providers administered 812 flu shots Sunday, according to hospital director of development Rachel Vanderhoop.

The clinic pooled flu shots from across the Island to meet the expected demand. Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) had a supply of 500 vaccinations, while the hospital and Island health agents had access to more doses. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) moved last week to distribute more vaccine to towns and local health care providers.

“We are trying to procure some more vaccinations,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. If Island health care providers can get more of the medication, they will arrange another clinic, Ms. Vanderhoop said.

“We have used up our current supply of flu vaccine for the clinic on Sunday,” read a statement on the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital web site. “All agencies involved in the clinic will seek further supplies.”

In a telephone call Wednesday, Carol Bardwell, chief nurse executive at the hospital, said no additional vaccine is available from suppliers. She and other health care providers plan to meet with town health officials Tuesday, to assess whether more vaccine is available, and whether another clinic will be scheduled.

Widespread outbreak

The Sunday clinic was quickly organized in cooperation with health agents in the six Island towns, in response to an escalating outbreak of flu across the state, most notably in Boston.

On January 9, Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino declared a health emergency, after more than 700 cases were reported in the city.

That same day, Tim Walsh, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital chief executive officer, was attending a meeting at Mass General Hospital, which was dealing with an influx of patients. On his return to the Island, Mr. Walsh asked hospital staff to organize a free clinic, but a hospital inventory showed only about 50 shots available.

Hospital officials, working with Island health agents last Thursday, who also had access to vaccine, decided to pool their resources in one central location, to make getting a flu shot convenient for anyone who wanted a shot, she said.

The flu has struck the Island early and hard. In December, doctors at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital diagnosed 31 cases of the flu and admitted three patients to the hospital.

Ms. Bardwell said Wednesday there are some hopeful signs in the latest data on flu cases.

“I’ve been on some state conference calls where people feel it seems to be slowing down, and we get that feeling here,” Ms. Bardwell told The Times. “We haven’t had any inpatients in January. The people we’re seeing are not so sick they need to be admitted.”

State department of public health data shows Boston suburbs experiencing the most cases of laboratory confirmed flu cases, but all regions of the state are reporting a sharply higher number of cases than in the past two years. State officials report 18 deaths from the flu so far this winter.

Across the country, the Centers for Disease Control rates the flu as widespread in 47 of 50 states.

Health care officials advise several common sense precautions to prevent spread of the flu. They say cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze using a tissue or your inner elbow, not your hands. Wash hands often with soap and warm water, or use and alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel. If you are sick, stay home.