Pierce County opens H1N1 flu call center

Pierce County leaders opened a call center today to help provide information about the H1N1 flu response to the public.

The H1N1 Hotline, which opened at noon, is part of an expanded outreach program developed by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in partnership with resources provided by Pierce County. Other elements of the outreach include a revamped Web site and a daily bulletin that will report on such issues as the latest word about vaccine availability and the rate of school absenteeism.

“We know that Pierce County residents and medical providers are frustrated that the H1N1 vaccine distribution is slower than expected and they are having a hard time getting the vaccine,” said Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, Director of Health of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “We are using all of our resources to track shipments and determine availability in Pierce County. Thanks to the County’s help, we have more resources available to share that information with the public.”

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy directed her Emergency Management, Communications, and Information Technology departments to assist the Health Department, which is an independent agency. Working together, the two organizations are taking the following steps:

I. Hot line — A call center managed by the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management will be activated today. The phone number is 253-798-7000. Trained personnel will be able to field questions from the public on vaccine availability, upcoming clinics, and general questions about priority groups currently targeted for H1N1 vaccination. Callers who need assistance with medical questions will be transferred to a nurse at the Health Department. The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays (such as Nov. 11, Veterans’ Day).

II. Web site — The Health Department developed a special Web page www.tpchd.org that provides valuable updates and resources. The information is organized in special categories, such as “Where can I find H1N1 vaccine” and “Frequently Asked Questions” and “Current H1N1 updates.” Additional categories include information for pregnant women, families, health care providers and businesses. Information is also available in Spanish.

III. Daily bulletin — On Nov. 4, the Health Department started issuing a weekday bulletin to keep city and county agencies, schools, medical providers, daycare centers and the media up to date. The information includes surveillance data – hospitalizations, absenteeism in schools, and deaths related to H1N1 – as well as announcements of upcoming clinics, shortages, vaccine deliveries, and state and federal announcements. The public can view this bulletin on the Health Department’s Web site or sign up to receive it via e-mail. The e-mail option is available by going to the Web site, clicking on “H1N1 updates” at the bottom of the page and then checking the box marked “H1N1 – Swine flu” under the list of options.

To date, only 12 percent (66,600 doses) of the allocated H1N1 vaccine has arrived in Pierce County due to a national shortage. As a result, demand for the vaccine far outpaces the supply.

Most vaccine arriving into the county is shipped directly to hospitals, pharmacies and medical providers from the distribution centers after confirmation of the order at the Washington State Department of Health. Orders of less than 100 doses are shipped to the Health Department for distribution to the smaller clinics and providers.

The next H1N1 vaccine clinic is planned for Sat., Nov. 7 at Clover Park High School from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. or until the vaccine is gone. Target groups are individuals ages 2 years to 24 years and pregnant women. The school is located at 11023 Gravelly Lake Drive SW, Lakewood.

Health Department staffers are in contact with pharmacies and health systems every day as part of the effort to monitor how much vaccine is arriving in Pierce County and where it is.

Rick Talbert, chairman of the Board of Health that oversees the Health Department, urged residents to be patient while the priority groups — such as pregnant women, people ages 6 months to 24 years, and adults 25 to 64 years old with chronic health conditions get vaccinated first. “It is taking longer than expected and we are revising our distribution plans as developments warrant. Eventually there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wants it.” Talbert said.

In the meantime, Pierce County residents are invited to keep up with the latest information by calling (253) 798-7000 or visiting http://www.tpchd.org .