Shortages go beyond the Hill
The College has only received 100 of the H1N1 vaccine of the 2,000 doses that it ordered from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC).
The announcement was made to the College via e-mail on October 29. Dr. Paul Berkner, medical director, wrote, "The limited amount of vaccine the College hopes to have available will be offered to those students [determined to be high-risk] on a first-come first-served basis. We will not have enough vaccine available to vaccinate all of these students." All of the vaccine's have been spoken for, and almost all have been administered, according to the Garrison Foster Health Center. There is a waiting list of about 50 students.
Due to the state-wide vaccine shortage, the state has prioritized children aged 18 and under for H1N1 vaccinations, which explains, in part, the small number of doses that the College received.
The CDC posted on November 12, "another 41,800 doses of H1N1 vaccine were distributed in Maine this week, bringing the total vaccine in the state to 180,400 doses." Vaccines began arriving in Maine on October 5. The College was notified on October 26 that it would receive a fraction of the doses it requested, Berkner said.
The College had a low number of incidences of influenza-like illness (ILI) early on in the semester and had no confirmed cases of H1N1 on record, as the College did not test students for the virus.
According to Berkner, the College did not test for H1N1 because test results take seven to 10 days, and the student with flu-like symptoms is likely to have recovered by that point.
However, by the time the 100 vaccines arrived on the Hill, there were over 100 cases of ILI on campus.
Indeed, the federal CDC guidelines do not require institutions to test for H1N1. As the virus is so widespread at this point, "we're not requiring everyone who has the symptoms to be tested-if they have the symptoms they're to assume they have [H1N1] and proceed accordingly," John Martins, director of employee and public communications at the Maine CDC, said.
"If there's an outbreak in a school, or if there are absences of greater than 15 percent, they'll report it to us," Martins said.
However, "for residential schools like Colby, it would be at the discretion of the health clinic to notify us when they see an unusual amount of illness," Dr. Andy Pelletier of the Maine CDC said.
Colby's peer institution Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, also received only 100 doses of the H1N1 vaccine, although it had requested enough vaccinations from the state to cover its 1,700 students.
Bowdoin College had an outbreak of H1N1 at the very start of the school year, and over 180 students had flu-like symptoms. However, the outbreak tempered before the vaccine arrived in the state, according to Scott Hood, the college's vice president for communications and public affairs.
At Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, an outbreak of H1N1 hit the campus hard in mid-October, afflicting approximately 280 students there, Margaret Leonard, staff nurse, said. Bates tested and confirmed six cases of H1N1, and then proceeded to consider each additional ILI case as H1N1.
On October 17, the Maine CDC intervened with a flu clinic on the Bates campus. According to the college's website, "As of November 10, 2009, 999 Bates students have received the H1N1 vaccine. At this time, the Health Center does not anticipate receiving more H1N1 vaccine."
An article in The Sun Journal noted that Bates may not have received as many vaccinations if it had had an outbreak later in the season, when it became clear that there was a vaccine shortage.
The article said, "Bates received preferential treatment because they were residential, which made them higher risks for the disease spreading," [Dr. Dora Anne] Mills, [director of the Maine CDC] said. Containing it at Bates helped protect the Lewiston-Auburn community."
In terms of holding clinics at schools, "it's been almost first-in, first-out," Martins said. If a school is ready for the clinic, the Maine CDC will come hold it there. "We will make allotments and adjustments. If there was an outbreak somewhere, we might make that a priority," he said.
"If the school has ordered the vaccine and they've been ready to [hold a clinic], we've been trying to fulfill those requests as quickly as we can. Of course, college students don't fall in the priority population," Martins said. Bates, given the timing of its outbreak, is an exception to the case among Maine's three NESCAC schools.
"Certainly if there's an outbreak somewhere or there are cases on campus, we work really hard to get the vaccines established there-and get a clinic together as quickly as we can," Martins said.
Martins also suggested that while the vaccine shortage limited supplies of vaccinations, the Maine CDC would try to get at least 100 doses out to high-risk populations from the get-go. The vaccines began arriving in the state in early October, according to the Maine CDC's website.
As of a November 12, H1N1 update from the Maine CDC, 16 percent of Kennebec County has received the vaccination, which is slightly above the state average of 14 percent. "These numbers mean there is one dose for every four people in a high priority group, and one for every eight people in the state," the report stated.
"Vaccine efforts continue," it said. "About 95 percent of schools are expected to complete their vaccinations by the end of next week, for a total of about 400 [K-12] schools in four weeks' time."
"Relatively low numbers of students in colleges have been immunized so far," Pelletier said.
The College continues to try to procure more vaccines.