After a bad case of the flu a few years back, Helen Givens, 68, wanted to be sure she got vaccinated this year. On Tuesday, after weeks of trying amid a nationwide vaccine shortage, she finally got her chance.
Givens joined more than 300 other seniors, pregnant women and other high-risk patients at Columbia’s first flu clinic of the season at the Health Connection, a branch of MU Healthcare.
“I just kept calling places,” she said.
Givens was able to get the afternoon’s first time slot at the appointment-only clinic. Worried about getting caught in traffic, she arrived at least 30 minutes early.
A cadre of volunteers was ready well before the official start time of 4 p.m. Nearly 30 other early arrivals joined Givens, but with no walk-in visits allowed, the lines moved steadily and ahead of schedule throughout the afternoon.
Another batch of 700 doses arrived at the Columbia/Boone County Health Department Tuesday, courtesy of MU Healthcare. The health department distributed those doses to an estimated 11 nursing homes, said Heather Baer, an agency spokeswoman.
“Nursing homes were in a bad situation, and we knew we had to take care of them first,” she said.
Most local nursing homes ordered their vaccine through private distributors supplied by Chiron, the British manufacturing plant shut down by government officials earlier this month because of contamination.
Janice Clark, an administrator at the Candlelight Lodge long-term care facility, said she was able to pick up 100 vaccines on Tuesday, enough to administer flu shots to all current residents.
“We were blessed that we were able to get it,” Clark said. “The residents broke out into applause when we told them.”
The Health Connection will have three more clinics this week, and two next week, by appointment only. The health department’s Nov. 4 clinic — the only one scheduled by the agency — will take place as planned, Baer said.
But like the Health Connection’s policy, those 1,500 doses will be administered only to those considered high-risk by the federal Centers for Disease Control — primarily seniors, infants, pregnant women, health care workers and those with chronic medical conditions such as kidney disease.
The department still hopes to receive more but doesn’t know when or how many, Baer said.
“We will proceed with what we have,” she said. “If we receive more we will decide how to distribute the shots at that point.”
At The Health Connection’s Parkade Center location, flu shot recipients were required to sign a waiver verifying their high-risk status. The center also offered a pneumonia vaccine, which along with the flu shot was available at no charge for Medicare recipients. Without Medicare, the flu vaccine cost $20 and the pneumonia vaccine was $35.
The flu hot line has been flooded with calls since an advertisement announcing the five scheduled clinics was published last week, said Jenny Workman, a supervisor at The Health Connection.
Beverly Perkins called to get appointments for her 91-year-old mother and two friends.
“It took 50 minutes to get through to make an appointment,” said Perkins, who had already received a flu shot from her doctor.
Once they arrived, Perkins was impressed at how smoothly the process was working.
Ken and Juanita Chesser came from Hallsville for their shots. Though both are over 65, the relatively healthy couple was hesitant to seek out the shots.
“I didn’t want to take away from the nursing homes,” Juanita Chesser said.