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Palatine only Cook suburb to get swine flu vaccine: is it fair?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Daily Herald
by Robert McCoppin

Palatine grade school students and faculty soon will be the only members of the general public in suburban Cook County who can get the vaccine against the H1N1 flu virus.

Is that fair?

Some parents and policy makers are starting to wonder.

These include Greg Cox, whose wife and 10-year-old son have asthma, a condition that puts them at higher risk of complications from the flu and prevents them from getting the live virus nasal spray.

Cox, an engineer who lives in Schaumburg, tried to get the vaccine from three family doctors and his son's pediatric pulmonologist, but none had it. He tried Cook County, the governor and his state representative, but none could help.

He's concerned that Chicago and other nearby counties have scheduled or begun general vaccination clinics, but not suburban Cook County. Palatine Township Elementary District 15 students, private schools students in that area, and high-risk school staff members can get vaccinated beginning Thursday.

"It's kind of surreal," Cox said, "because everybody is vaccinating their own residents except us. You sit here and wonder, when are we going to get any? Especially for high priority cases."

Federal guidelines say the vaccines should go to those most at risk of flu complications: pregnant women, those who live or take care of children under 6 months old, health care and emergency medical responders, those age 6 months to 24 years, and people age 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.

When the Cook County Health Department planned the vaccinations in Palatine schools, officials anticipated having enough vaccine to also start vaccinations for the public, said Sean McDermott.

But a delay in the manufacture of the vaccine has caused nationwide shortages. The county had to first help supply vaccines to health care workers at suburban hospitals, including Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village and Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

The county health department decided on Palatine schools after looking at ZIP codes and finding that Palatine's 60067 and 60074 have "one of the largest numbers of school-age children in the suburban area of the county," McDermott said.

Health department staff members also realized from providing services in the area that many families are uninsured or under insured, he said, and there is a significant rate of poverty.

"With those three factors Palatine rose to the top," said McDermott. "The primary factor is population. They have a lot of young people. We can deliver the vaccine in an effective and efficient manner and cover a lot of people at one time."

The department intends to hold public clinics around the county when it gets more vaccine, possibly as early as next week.

"There's a great deal of frustration in the general public, and we share that frustration," he said. "It's a national problem. It's a very complex process to manufacture the vaccine."

County board member Tim Schneider of Bartlett was concerned the Palatine school vaccinations don't include many of those in the priority groups, such as pregnant women and those with medical conditions.

He also said that because Chicago already has received 150,000 doses and Cook County only 20,000, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should adjust its allocation.

"We're getting out of the gate far too late on this," he said. "We need to get this out as quickly as possible to the people who are in danger of becoming seriously ill."

The Illinois Department of Public Health is coordinating distribution to 95 counties, 150 hospitals and 4,500 private providers such as doctors and pharmacies as quickly as possible, spokeswoman Kelly Jakubek said.

State Health Director Damon Arnold urged people to be patient and let high-priority patients go first.

By mid-November and December, he said, "There will be enough vaccine for everyone."

• Daily Herald Staff Reporter Deborah Donovan contributed to this report.



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