Flu vaccination event is chance for emergency planning drill

Shot in the arm

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2006

Kenai Peninsula residents who put off getting their flu shots until Nov. 1 will be able to get them for free during a mass-vaccination exercise planned by the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Noting public concern about pandemic flu outbreaks, borough Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Walden said the exercise would test the ability of local, borough and state emergency managers to handle medical situations involving large numbers of people.

The test should provide vital information about what personnel might be required, identify areas needing improvement, and reveal issues no one has thought of, he said.

“It will involve everything from incident command to security,” he said. “It will help us with long-term planning of response plans.”

The Alaska Division of Public Health, the cities of Kenai and Soldotna, Central Emergency Services, the Alaska State Troopers and others will participate in the exercise.

“We envision initiating portable clinic sites and drive-through sites to speed the process and provide convenience to the public,” Walden said. “We are encouraging the public to delay their usual flu shots in September and October to participate in this Nov. 1 exercise and receive their flu shot for free.”

Public Health Nurse Mary Jane Hanley said delaying getting a flu vaccination until then involves little risk because winter is generally flu season.

“Postponing it is probably really fine, but there are no guarantees,” she said. “I know people are anxious to get it as soon as possible.”

Hanley noted there is a risk local supplies of flu vaccine could run out during the mass-vaccination exercise. She could not say how long it might be before new supplies would come in, should that happen.

“I have not heard of any problems with supply,” she said. “In other years they have had problems, so until you’ve actually got it (the vaccine), you don’t know. If you think you’re at high risk or just can’t wait, go ahead and get it from your doctor or wherever you normally get it, but come and participate in the exercise anyway.”

Registering, lining up for a shot and being processed as if you were going to actually receive an inoculation would still provide officials and planners with useful information.

“We definitely want to see volumes of people,” Walden said, adding that he would expect also to see surges at different times during the day, such as at lunch hour.

Where the shots are to be delivered has yet to be determined, but Walden said he anticipates having more than one location going at the same time, probably with one in Kenai and another in Soldotna.

As of now, there are no plans to include Seward and Homer in this exercise, but that could change, he said. Anyone in the central peninsula area on exercise day is welcome to participate, however.

It is expected that about 3,000 doses of the flu vaccine will be available. Hanley said they might be able to inoculate up to 500 per hour under the right circumstances. While the mass-vaccination exercise will distribute flu vaccine, future events could involve dispensing such things as antibiotics or even clean water, Hanley said.

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