Seventy-year-old Homer Fink spent eight hours sitting next to a supermarket Halloween display to get a flu shot that he wasn’t able to get at five other places.
“I’ve had five bypasses and six stents in me now. I need the shot,” said Fink, who got the third spot in line by arriving at 1 a.m. Friday for a clinic scheduled to start at 9 at the Kroger store. It was the last vaccination clinic in the area.
The scene was repeated across the country as the nation’s suddenly limited supply of flu vaccine was drained. People lined up at pharmacies and supermarkets in the middle of the night: old folks with oxygen tanks, sleeping children bundled up in strollers, people in wheelchairs.
Some collapsed in exhaustion. In the San Francisco area, a 79-year-old woman died Thursday from head injuries after collapsing from exhaustion. She had waited four hours in a flu shot line with hundreds of other seniors. Two elderly women in Concord, Calif., were hospitalized after collapsing in a vaccine line.
Hundreds of people had to be turned away Saturday at a Giant supermarket in Alexandria, Va., a suburb of Washington, because only 200 doses were available, clinic supervisors said. People had started lining up at 5 a.m. and those lucky enough to make the cutoff, mostly elderly, ended up waiting in folding chairs that lined the store aisles.
A woman was arrested Friday in Shreveport, La., for disorderly conduct, accused of yelling at a police officer who was trying to move a crowd back. Some 600 people had showed up for 250 doses of vaccine.
The temperature neared 90 Friday in Clovis, Calif., as 78-year-old Russ Rock waited in line at a pharmacy, holding ticket No. 264 out of 300 handed out that morning. It was his second day trying to get a shot.
“If anybody told me I’d have to go through all of this to get a flu shot, I don’t think I would have gotten one,” Rock said, surrounded by other seniors sharing a bit of shade along the side of the building.
More than a quarter of the 200,000 residents of West Virginia’s Kanawha County usually get a flu shot each year, said Dr. Kerry Gateley, who heads the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
But this fall, all sources in the county, including doctors, hospitals and Kroger, got only 12,000 doses, Gateley said.
By 7:30 a.m. Friday, more than 400 people had lined up inside the South Charleston Kroger store and managers concerned about exceeding fire-code capacity told others to wait outside. Some were in wheelchairs, others had portable oxygen devices or canes.
The store gave its 350 doses of the vaccine only to those at high risk of flu complications. Most of those were elderly, and a few were children with chronic conditions.
India Rush, 41, brought her 5-year-old grandson, Marcus Smith, because he has asthma.
“His pediatrician didn’t have the flu shot. He’s having to miss school or be late,” Rush said. “I hate that because he is going to get behind. What can you do?”
Rush and Marcus arrived at the store at 3:40 a.m. He slept for hours in a stroller next to the organic frozen food cooler. When he finally got his shot — after a struggle and lots of tears — the nurse gave him $1 to buy a treat.
Louise Garten, 79, of South Charleston, started waiting at 2:40 a.m. because she has a history of pneumonia.
“I resent the fact the private physicians don’t have the shots to take care of their patients,” she said. “The doctors should have it, then we wouldn’t have this mess. You’re sick, who can you rely on if you can’t rely on your doctor?”
Just 250 doses of flu vaccine were available at an Albertsons supermarket in Tampa, Fla., and 65-year-old Suzanne Moore was No. 221 on the list as she sat in a lawn chair reading a magazine just inside the store’s front door Friday afternoon.
“I’m real concerned,” said Moore, bald from cancer treatments. “I have cancer and I’m taking chemotherapy. It’s vital for my immune system that I be inoculated. I don’t understand it all how it’s gotten to this point.”
People pushed, shoved and accused each other of cutting in line Saturday outside a Safeway supermarket in San Francisco, but that didn’t deter Rebecca Chen, who spent all night in line in the parking lot to save a spot for her parents. Hundreds of others were turned away.
“My mom’s very sick, she has cancer,” said Chen, 42. “My dad’s 76 and has diabetes and other health problems. It was one night for me, but it probably saved them from 10 nights in the hospital.”