BANGOR, Maine — Overall, Wednesday’s students-only flu vaccine clinic at the Bangor Civic Center went off pretty smoothly, organizers said. More than 4,000 area children and teens in kindergarten through grade 12 were vaccinated, most with both the seasonal flu vaccine and the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine. Injectable and nasal spray forms of both vaccines were available at the free clinic.
Parents hoping to beat the rush by showing up early with their children met with a bottleneck. Many stood outside in the cold, damp air for more than an hour in a line that at one point extended from the main entrance of the civic center, out through the parking area, down Buck Street and along Main Street in front of the Bangor Daily News building.
Many parents, including some who had taken time off from work to be there, were unhappy.
“I wonder how many parents are willing to come and stand in line in these economic times when they should be at their desk,” said one father who declined to be identified.
“This is how the government runs stuff. It makes you wonder what would happen if there was a real pandemic,” said another.
In most cases, the H1N1 virus has so far not proven more virulent than the regular seasonal influenza. But its rapid spread and the lack of immunity among humans to its novel makeup has caused alarm among public health experts, who fear it will mutate and become more deadly. The World Health Organization officially labeled the global H1N1 outbreak a pandemic in July. Last weekend, President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 outbreak a national public health emergency. Gov. John Baldacci declared a civil emergency in Maine in September.
Wednesday’s clinic was open to public school students from Bangor, Brewer, Dedham, Orrington, SAD 22, SAD 63, RSU 14 and RSU 26, as well as students from John Bapst Memorial High School and All Saints Catholic School in Bangor. A second clinic for students from the same area schools is scheduled for next Wednesday.
At 9:30 a.m., Sgt. Eugene Fizell of the Holden Police Department was standing in line in uniform with his 15-year-old daughter Abigail. They had arrived at 8:15.
“As soon as I leave here, I have to go to work,” Fizell said. Fizell said many of his public-safety colleagues had school-age children and were taking turns covering for each other so they could get to the clinic.
Abigail was shivering in a thin blue sweatshirt and jeans.
“I didn’t think we would be here such a long time,” she said. “I left my other jacket in my locker.”
Meanwhile, students bused to the event by their schools were unloaded at the front of the line and admitted to the facility through a different door.
Three of the twenty vaccine stations set up inside the facility were devoted to getting the bused students through the process as quickly as possible.
“We’re moving them through because they’re here without their parents and because the schools arranged to get them here,” said Shawn Yardley, director of the city’s Department of Health and Community Services. “The schools all had the option to bus their students here.”
Yardley said families had started lining up outside at 7 a.m. Although the crowd grew quickly and some delays resulted, he said he was happy with the big turnout.
“I’m very pleased people are taking this issue seriously and protecting their children,” he said.
Inside, the queue shuffled through the lobby and down the hall, merging with another line coming up a stairwell, looping snakelike through the main room of the facility. Heather Papini of Hermon was there with her children Giovanni, 6, and Olivia, 8. The children attend All Saints Catholic School in Bangor, which had bused many students over. But Papini drove her youngsters herself.
“They’re not too thrilled about getting the flu shot, and I wanted to be here,” she said.
Mark Dube, owner of the local Coffee News franchise, waited in line with 8-year-old Noah and 5-year-old Asia.
“We had to wait outside for 20 minutes or half an hour,” he said. “I thought it would go through faster. You’d think they would have more stations set up if they expected thousands of kids.”
Like many at the event, Dube said his children would get both the H1N1 and the seasonal flu vaccines. He said he had some concerns about the safety of the new H1N1 vaccine, but they were overcome by his desire to protect his children.
“The H1N1 vaccine is the lesser of two evils,” he said.
At 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Kathy Knight of the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center said the big crowd of the early morning had largely dissipated by 11 a.m. and wait times had been significantly reduced.
“Since about 1, we have been getting them as soon as they come through the door,” she said. “Things are going very, very smoothly right now.”
At 9:30 p.m., Knight said that about 3,900 doses of H1N1 vaccine and juts over 3,000 doses of seasonal flu vaccine had been administered by the scheduled 9 p.m. closing.
A second flu vaccine clinic for students in area schools is scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 4, at the Bangor Civic Center. Participating schools sent information home with students this week.