In Los Angeles County's free H1N1 flu clinics were opened last week as public health officials promised to aggressively vaccinate people at highest risk, especially the uninsured. Instead, overwhelmed clinic staff began vaccinating many people who were not supposed to be first in line for protection, officials said Tuesday.
"We thought it was important to get to as many people as quickly as possible," said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county's director of public health. "We were assuming that the private sector was going to be getting a lot more vaccine a lot faster than they did."
Fielding conceded that county officials failed to conserve vaccine supplies early on, unwilling to turn away those who had traveled and waited in line. By Tuesday, they faced a vaccine shortage, with only enough doses to stay open through Nov. 4 instead of the planned Nov. 8.
"How do those people feel when they came a long way and in many cases are part of a family?" Fielding said. "What do we say -- we'll do your children but we won't do you?" The Los Angeles Times reports.
Meanwhile, two top senators overseeing the national response to the swine flu are sharply questioning the government's handling of the vaccination program, in one of the first indications that it could become a political issue for the Obama administration.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) praised the government's initial steps on the H1N1 swine flu, but said they now have "strong concerns" about the fallout from faulty estimates for how much vaccine would be available.
"Unfortunately, these missteps in estimating available doses of H1N1 vaccine have effects beyond just growing public frustration; they have the potential to critically undermine our vaccine distribution efforts, which depend on accurate estimates of vaccine availability," the senators wrote, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The U.S. government may end up throwing away unused doses of swine flu vaccine if people cannot get it soon enough, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
Many states and cities say they have received about one-tenth as much vaccine as they originally had expected by this time. Frieden said the delays may discourage people who are lining up for vaccine.
"It is likely also as we produce more vaccine and as both people are given the opportunity to get vaccinated, and as disease maybe wanes in the future, we will have significant amounts of vaccine that can't be used," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said.
"One of the messages for states, localities and health providers is not to reserve vaccine that they have available, to give it out as soon as it comes in, because more is on the way," ABC News reports.