By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Hill County's mass flu vaccination clinic planned for Nov. 9-10 is now a real-life event, not a training exercise, according to Montana Disaster and Emergency Services.
The state agency's district representative, Ed Grieke, attended an emergency meeting of the Hill County Health Board on Wednesday, following news of a nationwide flu vaccine shortage. British authorities suspended Chiron Corp., one of two top flu vaccine providers, after concerns about contamination at its Liverpool plant, where American-bound vaccines are made.
The mass vaccination clinic had been planned as part of an exercise to simulate a flu pandemic. It would have tested the Local Emergency Planning Committee's coordination efforts and determined how many people the county clinic could vaccinate in two days. There was supposed to be enough doses of vaccine for everyone who wanted one.
Now, the clinic, to be held at the District IV Human Resources Development Council office, will aim to provide doses to populations in greatest need, County Nurse Cindy Smith said. Healthy adults will likely be turned away.
"This was supposed to be an exercise; now it has become an event," Gierke said.
The board decided to go forward with its clinic despite news that the county has received only 300 of the 4,000 doses it ordered. It will proceed with help from the hospital and the Hill County Commission.
Northern Montana Hospital will sell 2,700 of its doses, at cost, to the health board, keeping 550 doses to administer to hospital workers and patients. The County Commission will pay the bill.
Gierke is based out of Conrad and Great Falls. He arrived in Havre on Wednesday to organize the first step in the Local Emergency Planning Committee's exercise, which was a tabletop simulation of the November clinic. Instead, Gierke attended the Health Board meeting.
Only those who meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for getting flu vaccinations will receive them at the November clinic.
The county is concerned that news of the shortage will mean that healthy adults, who have the lowest priority, will flock to the clinic to get their shots, county bioterrorism coordinator Jennifer Brandon said.
The county will be hiring an extra 10 to 15 health workers to help screen people at the clinic, Brandon added.
The clinic will still charge $15 a dose, as it had originally planned. The money pays for the cost of the dose, as well as the nurses' wages and materials like needles and bandages, Smith said.
The doses will go to babies between 6 months of age and 6 years, pregnant women, the elderly, and people suffering from debilitating diseases including diabetes, cancer and heart disease, Smith said. Once these populations are treated, remaining doses may go to healthy adults.
"In my mind, there is no emergency here," County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Richardson said at the meeting. "The only quote, unquote emergency is that we have less than we expected and we'll have to ration what we have. But there is no rush. We have one month."
The board discussed steps it could take to maximize the clinic's benefit in the time it has.
Hospital personnel will assemble a list of patients in greatest need, Smith said.
Lori Henderson of Northern Montana Hospital said the hospital would be writing letters to the Albertsons and Kmart pharmacies to ask them to sell their doses to the county. Kmart had been planning its own flu vaccination clinic for Oct. 20 and Oct. 30, pharmacist Kathy Donaldson said.
If they do not do so, the Health Department will write letters asking the pharmacies to administer the doses in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, Smith said.
The board plans to send mobile clinics to group homes to reach patients who are homebound.
In addition to the county's doses, Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation has 200 of its own. The reservation had already placed an order for 1,000 more doses from Aventis Pasteur Inc., the country's biggest provider of flu vaccine. Those doses have not yet arrived and Smith said she could not be sure they are guaranteed. Three-quarters of the company's doses were spoken for before the suspension of Chiron Corp.
Fort Belknap Indian Reservation has already administered its 200 doses, Smith said.
Hill County doesn't expect to receive any more doses, except, perhaps, minimal doses for children, Smith said. A new batch of vaccine will not be ready until February, too late to protect people during the flu season, which peaks that month, she added.
"This kind of happened last year," Dr. Richardson said.
Last year, the county and the hospital had a combined total of 5,500 doses, but there was an outbreak of the flu, and demand exceeded the available number of doses.
This year the county and the hospital are looking at a combined total of 3,500 doses.