MACHIAS, Maine — Amid swirling accusations that the H1N1 vaccines are not getting to Maine fast enough, more than 250 Machias schoolchildren lined up Tuesday morning for the first round of inoculations.
“This has been a serious problem — getting the vaccine to us,” Donna Kelley of Down East Community Hospital said as the children rolled up their sleeves.
The Machias school clinic Tuesday occurred on the third day vaccines have been available in Washington County. Clinics were held Friday in Whiting and East Machias.
According to statistics provided by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of last Thursday, 3,500 doses of vaccine had been distributed in Washington County, enough to inoculate 10 percent of the county’s population.
Hancock County, however, appeared in worse shape with 4,400 doses, enough for 8 percent of its population. Maine’s other counties ranged from 16 percent to 10 percent availability, with the state average at 14 percent, the CDC document indicated.
Dr. Dora Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was unavailable Tuesday to comment on how the doses were being distributed.
Melissa Griffin, 30, of Dennysville, is all too familiar with the delay in getting the vaccine. She quarantined herself over the past six weeks waiting to get immunized and then waiting for the vaccine to take effect.
Griffin has cystic fibrosis and began searching for the vaccine in late September.
“Washington County is the last to get everything,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
As a cystic fibrosis patient, Griffin said, contracting H1N1 flu may have proved life-threatening for her.
“I was so frightened,” she said Tuesday.
Griffin said she searched for the vaccine from Maine to Massachusetts and was ready to make the 18-hour round trip to a clinic in Vermont when she finally discovered — through the help of Washington County Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry — that the cystic fibrosis clinic in Bangor had just received vaccines.
“I finally got the shot last Thursday,” she said. “I was the first one to get it from my pulmonologist in Bangor. But it was only because I was so persistent.”
Because she is waiting for the vaccine to become effective in her body, Griffin is still limiting her contact with others. Family and friends bring her groceries and run critical errands.
H1N1 has been reported throughout Washington County, and schools at Jonesport-Beals closed last week because of a high rate of absenteeism.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has called for changes to the H1N1 vaccine distribution plan, and a hearing on the problems was under way Tuesday before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Collins is a ranking member.
Information on H1N1 in Maine is available at www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh.