DENVER (AP) â€” Hundreds of elderly people waited in a line that stretched past shelves stacked with toilet paper and household cleansers and wound around the meat cases.
The bargain that brought the customers in wasn't a good deal on, say, canned tuna â€” it was flu shots.
For years, the Visiting Nurse Associations of America has offered cheap and convenient flu shots at supermarkets, drug stores, department stores and other public places across the country at prices ranging from $9 to $12.
This year, because of a shortage of flu vaccine, the lines are extraordinarily long, with many people afraid they won't be able to get a shot if they don't hurry.
Those who are older than 65, have serious illnesses or are pregnant can get shots this month at the supermarket clinics. Others have been asked to wait until next month, when more vaccine will be available.
At an Albertson's store in Denver, people began lining up three hours before the clinic opened. More than 100 were turned away.
``I don't mind the wait,'' said Pauline Hoagland, 83, who arrived 40 minutes early.
The idea was spawned nearly two decades ago on an airplane flight when Dr. Steven Mostow of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center buttonholed the president of the Cincinnati-based supermarket chain Kroger.
Mostow, a former field tester of vaccines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested using supermarkets to offer mass immunizations.
The company agreed, but had the Visiting Nurse Association set up in a camper in a King Sooper's parking lot in Denver because of liability worries about giving people shots inside stores. The patients entered a side camper door, got shots and left by the back door, nurse Cathy O'Grady remembered.
One recipient was an employee of the rival supermarket chain Safeway, who urged her employers to adopt the program, and the idea began to spread, O'Grady said.
In 1982, the program's first year, 30,000 people got vaccines at supermarkets, while 100,000 people got them in doctors' offices, Mostow said. Last year, the clinics gave 300,000 shots, while doctors administered 1 million shots.
Mostow said he initially received a lot of calls from doctors angry that the clinics were taking business away. But Mostow said everyone has accepted the benefits of the clinics. And because of this year's shortage, some doctor's offices have recommended their patients use clinics.
Supervalu, Publix and Stop 'N Shop are among the supermarkets also offering shots, along with drugstore chains like Walgreen's, CVS, Brooks and Osco.
John Works, who waited but was unable to get a shot, said the clinic provides a great service. ``Just about anyone can scrape together enough money to get a shot,'' said Works, who planned to try another clinic.
On the Net:
Visiting Nurse Associations of America: http://www.vnaa.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov