Line for flu shot clinic forms before 3 a.m.

Photo By Rick Harris
A crowd of more than 500 people stand in line Wednesday at the Carter County Health Department to receive the flu vaccine. Due to a national shortage, particularly in rural areas, residents came in droves, some as early as 2:30 a.m.

By Rozella Hardin
star staff

  If you drove past the Carter County Health Department Wednesday morning, you might have thought it was the day after Christmas and a big sale was in progress. More than 400 people were lined up outside the building waiting for the doors to open so they could get the "most wanted" item on their list - a flu shot.
  The first of two scheduled flu shot clinics at the health department was held Wednesday morning. By 8 a.m. when the doors opened, a crowd of more than 500 were waiting for the vaccine. When the last person was vaccinated around 11:30 a.m., 700 vaccinations had been given, according to Caroline Hurt, director. "Very few people were turned away. Toward the end, we sent a couple of our nurses out to inform them that we only had about 30 vaccines left. Probably, a dozen or so people were turned away," she said.
  Hurt said the first two people who came through the line said they had been there since 2:30 a.m. "Needless to say, they were bleary-eyed," she said, complimenting the crowd on their patience, kindness, and cooperation. "They were a very positive crowd and cooperated well, which made things go more smoothly."
  People were lined up two and three abreast on either side of the door and on the sidewalks leading to the street. The line extended across East G Street in front of the 9-1-1 building where a dozen people waited - without a number. On the east side of the health department annex, the line ended on the sidewalk near the Senior Citizens building.
  "I've never seen anything like this," said Charlie Moreland of the Elizabethton Police Department, who was directing traffic in and out of the health department parking lot. "We've been here since 6 a.m.," he said. "You can expect this when there is a shortage of anything," he said.
  While most people were standing in line, several brought lawn chairs and were waiting in the parking lot and on the health department lawn. Many were covered with blankets in the misty rain.
  Dallas White, who drove out of the parking lot at 8:30 a.m. after receiving his vaccination, said he came at 3 a.m. "There were a few in front of me. They said they come at 2:30 a.m. We stood around and shot the breeze. We had fun; we just made the best of the situation," he said.
  White said it was the first time he had ever had to stand in line to get a flu shot. "And, I don't like it," he said.
  Dorothy Mullins, who was sitting in a lawn chair near the front of the building, said she and her sister, who was waiting in the car, came at 7 a.m. "There was a long line then. They gave us a number," she said.
  Pauline Stout, who had number 144, said she came at 6:30 a.m. "The good part is that there is more behind me than in front of me," she said.
  Bill Jenkins, who was closer to the door but a long way from the clinic, said he came at 7:30 a.m. "I couldn't believe this line," he said.
  Pauline Graham said she and her husband came at 6:30 a.m. and had numbers 201 and 203. She was sitting in a lawn chair while awaiting her turn. Waiting with her were Ruth Bowling and her husband, Pete, who also came at 6:30 a.m.
  Nellie Wood, who had been waiting in line since 6 a.m., had number 97. However, several at the back of the line had no number. "We're just taking our chances they don't run out before they get to us," one lady said.
  Beth Estep, health education official, said approximately 850 vaccines had been received for the clinic, however, several had been pulled for pediatric and TennCare patients. "We'll give until we run out," she said.
  Inside the annex, where the clinic was being held, there were six vaccinators and another six people registering applicants.
  Hurt was policing the door, ushering people in and out.
  Parking lots all around the health department were filled to capacity, forcing health department employees as well as those at the mental health center, located across the street, to park elsewhere and walk. "I had to park down on Elk Avenue near Harvest Baptist Church and walk, but, that's all right," said Barbara Hyder, adding that some of the people waiting in line were on walkers and in wheelchairs.
  Another health department employee said the line was so long and so deep it was difficult to get through the door when she came to work. "But, when there is a shortage, people come early and wait to get the shot. Some probably have never had a flu shot," she said.
  The Carter County Health Department will hold the second of its scheduled clinics on Wednesday, October 27, from 1 to 3:30 p.m.
  Hurt again stressed that the vaccinations will be given only to high-risk persons. "We are following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines," she said.
  Hurt said the department would know Monday how many vaccines would be available for next week's clinic. "Once we know, we'll let the public know," she said.