Free H1N1 vaccine at L.A. County clinics

ENCINO, Calif. Hundreds of people began lining up before dawn to get into the first official L.A. County clinic in Encino.

"I've been hiding in my house for a month, and for the last two weeks I've been on the phone every day, going through the Yellow Pages trying to find a doctor in Los Angeles who had the shot," said Alexa White, who was waiting in line to get vaccinated.

The road to getting vaccinated was fraught with worry for 34-year-old Mari Abrams. When Eyewitness News first spoke with Abrams a few months earlier in her pregnancy, she said she was not going to get the vaccine.

"At first I was nervous. I think a lot of pregnant women out there, it's scary to get a new vaccine, but I think it's so important, and I did so much research and talked to many people," she said.

Abrams and her 3-year-old son were one of the first to take advantage of L.A. County's first free H1N1 clinic.

The clinics will offer free shots to people without insurance or a regular source of health care.

"There will be 64 sites, representing the largest mobilization of public health since the polio epidemic in the mid-1950s," said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The staff said they'll be able to dispense about 300 shots and nasal vaccines per hour, which means about 2,500 people will be able to get the vaccine a day.

Priority will be given to pregnant women, children, health care workers, emergency service personnel and older people with compromised immune systems.

Dr. Alonzo Plow from the L.A. County Department of Public Health said pregnant women and young children are the most at-risk.

"We have the highest hospitalization rate of children under the age of 4," he said.

The H1N1 flu shots arrived a little late due to production delays, but health officials say it is not too late to benefit from the vaccine.

"We had 37 outbreaks last week, so this continues to increase," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, L.A. County Director of Public Health.

There have been hundreds of people hospitalized for swine flu in L.A. County, and the hospitalization rate for swine flu is up 5 percent from 2 percent.

"I think we all have a responsibility to consider seriously getting vaccinated for the sake of everybody," said Lauren Cazden, who was also getting vaccinated.

Health officials say people really need to get vaccinated to avoid a pandemic in L.A. County.

Plow said there was no reason for the public to be concerned about the vaccine.

"This vaccine is safe, FDA-approved, effective," Plow said. "If we had discovered this novel virus three months earlier, this vaccine would have just been the regular seasonal flu vaccine."

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