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County Uses Free Flu Vaccine Clinic to Test Pandemic Preparedness Plan

The current H1N1 flu pandemic has raised many questions such as the ability of hospitals to handle an influx of patients, the best way to stem off public panic, and the best way to conduct mass vaccinations. All levels of government and many private organizations have worked to prepare pandemic plans. Having a plan is an important first step; however, testing the plan will highlight areas that needs revised, prior to an actual incident. Cambria County, Pennsylvania is using a flu vaccine clinic to test their pandemic preparedness plan.

Cambria County chose this flu clinic, as a test of the county’s Pandemic plan, because they were expecting a large turnout. Previously, Cambria County Emergency Management and Public Health Departments had two other flu clinics scheduled for last week; however, these clinics were canceled due to flu vaccines not arriving. These previous cancellations gave indication that this flu clinic would draw a crowd.

Early turnout was slow; however, the county’s flu clinic did not disappoint. The Tribune-Democrat described the clinic’s turnout as, “Although early turnout at the afternoon’s public event was slow, more than 700 students and employees from St. Francis University and Mount Aloysius College received vaccine during a morning clinic targeting those groups, Springer said. By the end of the day, 1,219 people had received flu shots.”

Part of any Pandemic flu plan is medical volunteers. Any potential mass vaccination would require a large number of medical professionals. Even though it is an emergency, any lay person is not able to give shots. HIPPA regulations may be softened, but there are still protocols to follow. Medical records must be kept, every person receiving a vaccination must be tracked, and medical supplies must be closely tracked to prevent theft.

Cambria County Emergency Management and Public Health Departments worked volunteers into these flu clinics. Among the public health department’s own staff, volunteers included students from local physician assistant’s and nursing programs, health care volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps, and volunteers from the American Red Cross’s Keystone Chapter. Over all, 60 volunteers participated in the flu clinic.

Cambria County Emergency Management Director Ron Springer was pleased with the flu clinic’s outcome. The Tribune-Democrat quoted Springer as saying, “The training aspect is going very well…We got to prove what we wanted to prove. We had more than 700 in five hours, and we could have handled easily double that.” Certainly, not a bad outcome or test for the county’s Pandemic plan. During any test, there will be things that could be “tweaked” or improved. Identifying these areas is a main goal of any emergency procedures drill. Cambria County’s flu drill aids them in identifyig these areas, evaluating the flu drill, and making changes to improve the county’s Pandemic plan.