Bianca Chang scurried around the cafeteria of Howard High School urging parents of students in the Sunday Chinese school to get a swine flu shot.
Just down the hall, the Howard County Health Department was running a vaccination clinic for the region's Chinese and Korean communities. There are plenty of translators, the shots are free, and it would take only a minute, she urged.
Out of a group of about 50 people, she got three takers. By midafternoon, though, the department had inoculated about 300.
"I tell them it's perfectly safe," said Chang, principal of Howard's Chinese Language School. "There's a lot of misconceptions about the vaccine. That's why we're trying to reassure people."
With 1,000 doses of vaccine on hand, the clinic was the first of several the health department is planning for specific populations, including ethnic groups that health workers have had a hard time reaching because of language or cultural hurdles. In the works are clinics directed at Spanish, French and Arabic speakers. Sunday's clinic was staffed by more than 60 Korean and Chinese volunteers, who ushered vaccine seekers through the gym with color-coded wristbands corresponding to their native language.
"We don't want a community to go without being vaccinated," said Lisa de Hernandez, a health department spokeswoman. "If they don't feel comfortable because of limited English skills, then they aren't going to come out."
Public health officials across the state have ramped up vaccination efforts, taking advantage of a surge in H1N1 vaccine supply. Infections peaked in Maryland and nationwide last fall, after an initial outbreak in the spring. But public health officials are warning of a third wave of the virus, which infected 55 million people in the United States from April through December, resulting in 246,000 hospitalizations and 11,160 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For Sunday's clinic, the department partnered with the language school, the Korean Association of Maryland and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They got the word out in Chinese and Korean newspapers and on radio stations.
But Chang said those methods, while helpful, can go only so far.
"You need to follow up with phone calls," said Chang, who used the language school's phone tree to spread the word. "You need to talk to people face-to-face."
Beyond the language barrier, Chang said many recent immigrants work long hours as self-employed entrepreneurs and feel they don't have time to get vaccinated.
Others question the safety of the vaccine. "They say things like, 'Oh, this is the shot that makes you sick,' " Chang said. "There's fear and distrust. And those stories spread like wildfire."
Alice Huang, 51, of Ellicott City said she put off getting vaccinated as long as she could.
"I just wondered, do I really need to get it?" she said. "I heard if you're older, you might have some immunity. And a lot of us think it's better to fight off something the natural way rather than get a vaccine."
But Huang decided Sunday to roll up her sleeve for her first-ever flu shot, and even persuaded a friend. "I figured I'd follow the trend," said Ching Lin Cheng, 50, also of Ellicott City. "I was convinced I didn't need it, but I'm also still a little worried about the pandemic. It could get worse."