'Kinder, gentler' H1N1 vaccine clinic a big hit Saturday in East Naples

— Health workers recorded a big jump in H1N1 vaccinations against the swine flu Saturday in Collier County.

Some 1,400 people rolled up their sleeves for an H1N1 flu shot at a Collier County Health Department vaccination clinic at the former Kmart on U.S. 41 East near Collier Boulevard, health department spokeswoman Deb Millsap said.

Saturday was the first day the health department expanded the group eligible for the vaccinations to include healthy people up to age 65 and people older than 65 with a medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes, that puts them at higher risk from flu-related complications.

“We’re really happy to be able to open the doors to more people,” said clinic volunteer team leader Jan Siegel.

Still not eligible for the vaccination are healthy people older than 65, and clinic workers had to turn away about 25 of them Saturday, Millsap said.

“Most were very receptive (to let others get the shot first),” she said.

A decision to make that group eligible for the vaccination is expected in coming weeks, she said.

The phased rollout of the vaccination, under the guidance of the Centers of Disease Control and the Florida Department of Health, is meant to get the shots to the most at-risk groups first, she said.

The big numbers Saturday were on par with the crowds that showed up to get the shots when the health department first offered them to high-risk groups back in November, Millsap said.

More than 47,000 people, or about 40 percent of the first-priority high risk groups, have gotten the vaccination, according to health department figures.

Those include pregnant women, caregivers, health care workers and schoolchildren.

Naples resident Elizabeth Vanasse, 64, said she did her best to avoid the swine flu while she waited for the day she could get vaccinated.

“I was nervous but not frantic,” she said, waiting in line Saturday afternoon.

Beverly Kubec, 81, also was breathing a sigh of relief that she stayed healthy.

“I would have liked to have gotten the shot right away, but that’s just me,” she said.

The line for the shots snaked out the door and into the rain Saturday morning, with more than 250 people getting the shots in the first hour.

A golf cart patrolled the parking lot to help people who needed a lift to the front door.

Vaccination seekers were handed a clipboard with forms to sign as they walked in and lined up between rows of yellow caution tape.

Health workers were stationed at more than a dozen folding tables spread out across the shiny floor where shopping carts once rolled.

The screams of needle-wary children occasionally pierced through the hum of an oversized fan.

For the most part, though, the clinic was upbeat — a marked difference from past clinics, where more people had to be turned away as ineligible for the H1N1 vaccine, Siegel said.

“It’s a kinder, gentler event,” Siegel said.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.

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