WBUR

Mass. Patients Seek Flu Vaccine… In Droves

Lucas Rose is comforted by his mother, Julie Rose, after getting a flu shot from Vy Long at Harvard Vanguard in Quincy on Friday. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Lucas Rose is comforted by his mother, Julie Rose, after getting a flu shot from Vy Long at Harvard Vanguard in Quincy on Friday. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

BOSTON — A child under the age of 6 who had the flu died earlier this week in Boston. The Boston Public Health Commission says it’s not clear yet if flu was the cause of death.

“This news is very upsetting,” said Nick Martin, spokesman for the commission, “but we really want people to rest assured that the vaccine is safe for children over the age of 6 months and we want parents to seriously consider getting their children vaccinated.”

More than 20 clinics will be open in Boston this weekend, and many more across the state, to handle an influx of patients seeking the flu vaccine.

Adults and children alike flooded clinics Friday, responding in such numbers that some outlets ran out of the vaccine, lines backed up, and clinics extended their hours.

Rachel Sorensen can tell you all about pharmacies that are turning flu shot patients away. Sorensen decided on Thursday that it was finally time to get vaccinated. She stopped by a CVS near her home in Belmont, but she was too late. She spent 45 minutes on the phone, looking for someone who still had the vaccine.

“Basically, everyone had run out,” Sorensen said. “I called a dozen different pharmacies and supermarkets and none of them had anything.”

A few places told Sorensen more vaccine might arrive later Friday.

“So I’ll give them a call and see if they have any, but otherwise I’m washing my hands a lot,” Sorensen added hopefully.

At the Harvard Vanguard office in Quincy Friday, young Lucas Rose sat on his mother’s knee as a nurse pushed up the sleeve of his orange T-shirt.

“You’re all set buddy, you’re all set,” his mother, Julie Rose, cooed in his ear.

But in a few seconds, as the sting of the needle registered, Lucas wailed. “I know buddy, I know,” his mother said.

Julie Rose was taking advantage of a pediatric flu shot clinic Harvard Vanguard opened in response to a deluge of calls. Camille Peterson, the operations manager, said all staff members have been vaccinated and she stops everyone she sees, including vendors and deliverymen, to ask if they’ve had a flu shot.

“Anybody who comes into the building is offered a flu shot as well, so we’re constantly doing them all day,” Peterson said. “We want everyone in the building to be protected.”

But protection is not painless. “God, I hate this part,” said Amihan Henry, as she waited for the nurse to insert the needle. Henry was at Harvard Vanguard for another appointment when she heard Peterson make an overhead announcement about the flu clinic on the third floor. She stopped by, even though she hates shots.

As the needle entered, she couldn’t stiffle a scream. But Henry was glad she came, because “I’m a homemaker,” she said, “somebody has to tend the home.”

Patient after patient who has had the flu this year describes an awful experience. Keri Griffin was sick for about two weeks, starting just after Christmas, even though she had a flu shot.

“I really have just started feeling normal for the last four or five days,” Griffin said.

The state Department of Public Health says the latest numbers show flu is on the decline from the peak two weeks ago.

Yonatan Grad, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, says that’s an encouraging sign.

“But it’s hard to know exactly what that means for the future,” Grad cautioned, “particularly as kids are returning to school. So we’ll see what happens over the next week to really get a sense of whether this is a continued downward trend or not.”

Sorensen renewed her search for the flu vaccine Friday afternoon. After about two hours, Sorensen got the shot. “My arm’s a little sore,” she said, “but I’m hoping I won’t get the flu.”

There’s no point telling you where Sorensen found the vaccine because the pharmacy “said that they would probably be out by the end of the day.”

There are clinics open this weekend in many communities across the state and many hospitals and physicians groups say they are well-stocked. But you might save yourself some time and frustration by calling ahead first.

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