More than 500 get flu shots from city

State, Johns Hopkins donate surplus vaccines for high-risk residents

December 30, 2003|By Jessica Valdez | Jessica Valdez,SUN STAFF

To the backdrop of screaming infants, 23-month-old Kevin Gamble smiled and lisped a soft "thank you" to his nurse as he received a flu shot yesterday at the Clarence H. Du Burns Arena.

More than 500 flu shots were administered yesterday by the Baltimore City Health Department to high-risk applicants, most of whom were adults older than 65 years old and children younger than 23 months. The vaccines were donated by the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the state of Maryland.

The city had 400 doses available for at-risk adults and 210 for infants, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner.

Although shot recipients yesterday had to qualify as high-risk, many of them had previously been turned away by physicians' offices grappling with dwindling vaccine supplies.

Each year, Velma Seabrooks, 75, of Baltimore receives a flu shot because of her heightened health risk and age. But this year, her doctor turned her away.

"My doctor said I should have called him earlier," she said. "But I never had any problems before."

Johns Hopkins Hospital donated all but several hundred doses of its surplus to the city.

"The request from our employees has really dwindled down," said Dr. Beryl Rosenstein, vice president for medical affairs at the hospital. He said nurses have reported a slight decrease in the number of influenza cases in the past week to 10 days.

With heightened media attention to the flu, high-risk people who need vaccinations have faced a shortage, Beilenson said.

"There has been tremendous media hype," he said. The city has provided about 5,000 doses this year, compared with about 3,000 for the same time last year.

"We're not going to have enough," Beilenson said. "So unless someone else donates, we have no more."

Each year, 30 million to 60 million Americans contract the flu. Although on average 36,000 die of it each year, this year more than 60,000 have died, Beilenson said.

"The vast majority of them have been high-risk," he said. "For the majority of folks, you can go home, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest." Also, adults not at high risk can use the FluMist vaccine, a nasal spray.

Rosenstein called the situation an "epidemic."

"Last week, we had seen something in the order of 250 confirmed cases and that compared with 40 at the same time a year ago," he said. "But I think we've just seen the flu come earlier this year."

Some of the infants immunized yesterday had received their first booster shot in November before physicians faced a shortage, such as 17-month-old Ema Rennie.

Her primary physician ran out of supplies and could not administer the second booster, said her father, Tim Rennie of Catonsville.

Bundled in a green scarf and black-and-white checkered pants, Ema gave nurses what a Health Department employee called a "bring-it-on look."

"She's tough," her father said.

But few seemed as thankful as young Kevin Gamble, whose mother, Sharmeil Gamble, also received a flu shot because she is a child care provider in Randallstown.

As a child care provider for about eight children, Gamble said it was important to be immunized against the flu.

"If I'm not well, and I'm in direct contact with them, I will get everyone else sick," she said.

Also at the arena yesterday was Linda Lippert, an Anne Arundel County schoolteacher who lives in Catonsville. She went to be immunized with her husband, Keith, and her 16-month-old son Nathan.

"It was definitely a concern of mine having an infant and coming in contact with so many kids all the time," she said.

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