Hunt for flu vaccine comes up empty
A search for the flu vaccine to guard against the H1N1 virus, which has claimed the lives of five persons since the start of the year, proved to be challenging last week when a Sunday Gleaner team sought to access it at public health clinics in the Corporate Area.
The journey to source the vaccine started at the Comprehensive Health Centre on Slipe Pen Road in Kingston on Wednesday, where we were told by a security guard that the person issuing the vaccine at the facility was only available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. She noted that the vaccine is not issued after 3 o’clock.
The following day, the team went to the Hagley Park Road Health Centre hoping to have better luck, but the customer service representative declared that the vaccine is not issued to members of the public, only to staff members, as far as she is aware. She was then asked whether they would be able to provide the influenza vaccine for a three-year-old child, since the ministry had stated in its advisory that children were among the high-priority group. She was clueless.
“They only give it to staff,” she insisted.
She then proceeded to the Maternal and Child Health section to enquire whether they issued flu vaccines to children, but the three women clad in light blue seemed just as clueless.
“The influenza, the flu vaccine, we ever give any three-year-old yet?” she asked.
“Not that I know of,” was the reply from one of the ladies.
“The nurse didn’t say anything to us about that, and I have never seen it happen before,” a second lady in blue chimed in.
They were then informed by this reporter about the MOH advisory that said that pregnant women, the elderly and children with chronic illnesses would be able to get flu vaccines at public health facilities for free.
“They are saying that?” one asked.
“I am not aware of it, because I don’t even watch news, honestly,” she told us.
“Later when our public health nurse comes, I can ask and you can come back tomorrow, but differently from that, I am not aware of it, because when we have our meetings, she would have told us that if anybody come in and they want the flu shot, tell them that they can come in this area or whatever, but she hasn’t said anything like that,” she said empathetically.
INFANTS AT RISK
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton had placed the country on alert for influenza in February because of a significant increase in the number of cases of respiratory or flu-like illnesses. He noted then that persons at highest risk are infants and young children, adults 60 years and older, pregnant women, and persons with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems.
“In preparation for this flu season, a total of 21,900 doses of influenza vaccine were purchased by the Ministry of Health through the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Revolving Fund for Vaccines and distributed to parish health departments in late October 2018,” the minister noted in parliament on February 12.
The MOH has since informed The Sunday Gleaner that of the 18,520 doses of the vaccine that have been dispatched locally, only 2,636 were dispensed at public health facilities. The vaccine expires in October and will have to be discarded.
With no luck at the Hagley Park Health Centre, one of the highest-traffic clinics in Kingston and St Andrew, t he Gleaner team proceeded to the Olympic Gardens Health Centre, which is located in Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ St Andrew West Central constituency. We were told by one of two customer service representative on duty that the flu vaccine was not offered there to children, or anyone for that matter.
“We don’t give flu shots; you would have to purchase it privately,” she said.
She then suggested that we could check the private health facility across the street from the clinic, but they, too, said they had no flu vaccine.
Hoping for a breakthrough, we then went to the Maxfield Park Health Centre, which was abuzz with mid-morning activity. The customer service representative on duty suggested that this reporter speak to one of the ladies in blue to get more information, when we enquired if the vaccine was offered to children at the facility.
Three of these ladies were spotted, but upon stating the nature of the visit, one quickly instructed this reporter to speak to the nurse. She pointed to a closed door where the nurse was located, and further instructions were given to take a seat until she is finished with the patient.
“You have to hear it from her,” she said, pointing to the closed door.
Seeing that the nurse was dealing with the patient for a while, one of the three nurses then went and knocked on the door to get her attention. This reporter was then instructed to come in.
The nurse, who was dressed in brown, politely asked the nature of the visit. This reporter then told her that more information was needed on how to go about getting the flu vaccine for a three-year-old child, and she noted that while they do not issue the vaccine, it was for specific groups. She asked if the child was asthmatic or had been displaying systems of flu.
“We have it, but it is only for the group that they advise us to give – asthmatics, pregnant mothers, elderly, health workers,” she said.
“Take him on second Friday, because sometimes when they have it, they just give it to anybody who want it and it’s free. Bring the immunisation card with you,” she courteously instructed.
The search for the vaccine ended at the health centre where it started. The team went back to the Comprehensive Health Clinic a few minutes past 12, but was told that the person who was responsible for giving it was at lunch and would not be back until one o’clock.