By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Hill County Health Department will hold a flu vaccination clinic Tuesday and Wednesday despite a national shortage of doses.
The clinic was planned in September to simulate mass vaccination that would be required if there were a flu pandemic, when most people in a large geographic area contract the disease. Instead, the clinic will target high-priority people for vaccination, Hill County Nurse Cindy Smith said.
Smith, who organized the clinic, said that the shortage heightened the status of the clinic from training to a high-pressure event, though not to the level of an actual pandemic.
On Oct. 5, the United States learned that its number two supplier of flu vaccine, the British company Chiron Corp., was suspended from distributing doses because of problems at its vaccine manufacturing plant in Liverpool, England.
Immediately the Hill County Health Board, Northern Montana Hospital, and the Local Emergency Planning Committee began to meet to decide how to handle the shortage, and whether to proceed with the November clinic.
Organizers of the clinic said that the heightened pressure has increased the clinic's effectiveness as a training tool. A representative from the state will film the two-day clinic so Hill County's experience can be used for training purposes, Smith said. There will also be outside evaluators from other counties, and some volunteers and participants will be asked to fill out evaluation forms.
The clinic will go forward with half the number of doses originally planned, 3,100 adult doses and 348 pediatric doses. Those will only be given to people belonging to a priority group as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People are asked not to come to the clinic unless they believe they might be among the priority groups.
The priority groups include children ages 6 to 23 months, adults 65 and older with underlying chronic medical conditions, persons ages 2 to 64 with underlying chronic medical conditions, women who are pregnant during the influenza season, children ages 6 months to 18 years on chronic aspirin therapy, day-care providers of children younger than 6 months of age, parents and household contacts of children younger than 6 months of age, and health care workers involved in direct patient care.
The clinic was possible because of help from Northern Montana Hospital, Smith said. The hospital sold the Hill County Health Department its extra doses of vaccine at cost after news of the shortage broke.
In addition, the District IV Human Resources Development Council volunteered its building on Fifth Avenue to house the clinic, which will be held there from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Smith said.
"This is what would have to happen in a real event. People would have to work together and communicate," she said.
Originally, the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which consists of law enforcement officers, firefighters and the county planner, was going to simulate the supportive role that those agencies would supply in an actual event. Participants would simulate illness while at the clinic and Triangle Telephone would provide services to help coordinate the agencies.
The clinic no longer has simulation of emergency scenarios. The Havre Fire Department will play a supportive role, and local law enforcement will provide security, Smith said.
The Health Department has arranged to have additional staff to help with the screening process to determine if a person is eligible for a dose. There will be between 70 to 100 staffers, with 11 nurses per shift, Smith said.
"We've got it well staffed," Smith said. She said they hope to keep the wait for vaccinations less than 40 minutes, and will alert the radio about wait time so people can hear when it is a good time to go.
Most people are asked to park at the Fifth Avenue Christian Church where they will be shuttled by bus to the HRDC building, but anyone with a handicap should drive straight to the building, Smith said. People should bring their Medicaid or CHIP cards with them. People who receive a dose will be charged $15 to cover costs. The immunizations will be recorded in the state innoculation registry.
The health department expects to eventually get some more pediatric doses and 140 nasal spray vaccines that can only be given to healthy adults. People turned away from the clinic will be able to leave their names on a waiting list for leftover doses, Smith said, though she added that doses will first go to people older than 65.
Montana Disaster and Emergency Services District Representative Ed Grieke has been helping Hill County prepare for the clinic. He said that most disaster plans are designed as responses to natural disasters. The idea of using the model for a health emergency is relatively new, he said.
"The state has had some vaccination clinics before, but not dealing with the dynamics that Hill County has to deal with," he said, adding that the main challenge that was specific to the Hill County clinic was the goal of targeting only the high priority groups.
"It started out as training and somewhat turned into a real event," Gierke said. "That wasn't our strategy but that's life."