Doug Palmer receives a flu vaccine in his car at the Soldotna Sports Center from Karen Jensen, a registered nurse from Central Peninsula General Hospital, during a bioterrorism exercise Friday. The drill featured a clinic set up at the Kenai National Guard Armory in Kenai and a drive-through clinic at the sports center.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Public health officials did not get the numbers of people they were looking for, but expressed confidence that the Kenai Peninsula is prepared to mass immunize the populace should the need arise.
Free flu shots were given at the National Guard Armory in Kenai and at a drive-through site set up in the parking lot of the Soldotna Sports Center on Friday to test the peninsula’s level of preparedness should a bioterrorist event ever occur.
“At Kenai, 399 people were vaccinated and (a total of) 430 were processed; at the Soldotna Sports Center, 368 were vaccinated and 378 processed,” said Mary Jane Hanley, director of the Kenai Public Health Clinic.
People were asked to come to the flu-shot exercise even if they already had received their flu shots, in order to test the ability of health providers to handle large crowds expected to come in the event of a real emergency such as a pandemic or bioterror attack.
Scott Walden, emergency manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said earlier he hoped to get 500 people per hour between the two sites.
Volunteers work in the cold to check people in before they proceeded to the tent where vaccines were dispensed.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
When the armory first opened for business at 8 a.m., volunteer greeter Paul Brenner said, “A lot of people with families showed up.”
By the end of the first hour, 95 people had come through the armory site with 89 receiving flu vaccinations.
To mimic an actual emergency, the Kenai Civil Air Patrol squadron simulated a flight to Anchorage to pickup the vaccine, which was delivered to the armory first, at 8 a.m.
Pretending the armory distribution would be overrun, a second site was opened at the sports center at 10 a.m., with people allowed to receive their flu shots while still seated in their vehicles.
By 10:30 a.m., about 50 vehicles were lined up at the drive-through site.
Lynn McLeod, of Semmes, Ala., was among the early flu shot recipients at the armory.
“I think it was fantastic. It was fast ... efficient,” McLeod said of the setup in Kenai.
McLeod said he and his son, Michael, were taking his grandson to school in Kenai when they noticed the electronic sign in front of the armory advertising free flu shots.
Michael McLeod, of Soldotna, said he gets a flu shot every year, but usually drives to Anchorage to get his shot from the Veterans Administration.
“It was fast. We were in and out in less than five minutes,” the younger McLeod said.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Donna Peterson also said the process at Kenai was “really fast.”
She said she waited to get her flu shot until Friday because she wanted to help test the peninsula’s preparedness.
“I wanted to be sure we would be ready in an emergency,” Peterson said.
Saying the procedure “went great,” Peterson added with a laugh that “it didn’t hurt at all.”
One woman, Jeannette Young, of Kenai, said a coworker at Head Start told her how organized the process was at the armory so she went to Kenai Middle School and picked up her son, Steven, 11, so the two could get their flu shots.
It was the first time either got flu vaccines.
Steven also said the shot didn’t hurt at all.
Waiting in his vehicle in line at the sports center, Jim Hatfield of Ridgeway, said, “I was a little late getting my flu shot (this year), and I called Kenai Public Health and they said this drive-through was going on today.
“It’s a pretty good deal,” he said.
Also waiting in her vehicle, Soldotna resident Ladana Turner said she preferred the drive-through “because it’s easier and faster.”
She said she came to the Kenai Peninsula from Oklahoma where drive-through immunizations also are available.
“I’ve been getting flu shots for the last 10 years,” Turner said.
Robin Nyce, a public health nurse who was serving as the Soldotna clinic manager for the exercise, said, “The whole point is to see all the agencies working together.
“We have a variety of people working as volunteers from all different agencies,” Nyce said.
In addition to public health workers, the Kenai Police and Fire departments, Soldotna Police, Central Emergency Services and the 49th Military Police Brigade helped out.
Soldotna City Council member Jane Stein, who was serving as the volunteer coordinator at the sports center, said, “The volunteers started arriving at 9 (a.m.) and were all ready by 9:30.”
Initially the exercise had been planned for Nov. 2, but was postponed because all the needed vaccines had not been delivered.
“Shipments started around the first of October,” said Gerri Yett, deputy immunization program manager for Alaska.
“We got our last shipment on Tuesday,” she said.
In all, 130,000 flu vaccines were sent to Alaska, Yett said, plus an additional 30,000 to 40,000 that were purchased by private health practitioners.
“We won’t run out,” she said.
People who did not get their free flu shots on Friday, can still get shots at the Kenai public health clinic, according to Hanley.
She said the normal cost is $24; children are free; and the clinic accepts Medicare as payment as well as offering a sliding scale payment structure for those who have difficulty affording the shot.
When asked if the free shots were cutting into the clinic’s business, Hanley said, “Every shot, even if it’s free, saves money in the long run.”
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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