Flu clinic to test bioterror response

Health department officials hope to administer 1,000 to 1,500 flu shots.
Thursday, September 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:47 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

In November, a flu vaccine clinic will test local health officials’ preparedness for a bioterror attack.

The Columbia/Boone County Health Department hopes to give an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 flu shots in a single day — more than twice its one-day high last year of 500 — during a 12-hour emergency response drill Nov. 4 at the health department clinic at 1005 W. Worley St.

“The whole idea is to stress the system … to see how it will adapt,” Public Health manager Mary Martin said.

The drill, tentatively scheduled for 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., will test the health department’s emergency response procedures, health officials said. Two shifts of about 60 department employees, along with the Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and senior nurses from area hospitals, will distribute flu shots. The clinic also will test the efficiency of nurses’ shift changes and will help coordinate hospital and health department personnel, Martin said.

“The only way we’re going to know if we are on track is if we test,” said Stephanie Browning, city health department director. “It’s one of our challenges to do this well.”

Browning said the drill will be good experience for the Medical Reserve Corps, a federally funded volunteer group that would respond in a bioterror attack by directing traffic, assisting with paperwork or giving shots. Much of the Nov. 4 exercise remains in the planning phases, Browning said. City employees might be immunized as well. The department plans to advertise the clinic in city newsletters, health department service groups and local media., Browning said.

“I think word of mouth is the best way to go,” said Heather Bear, a health department spokeswoman. “We’re considering this a community event.”

Bear and Browning said they are confident the clinic is Columbia’s best course of action, given the severity of last year’s flu season. The city had 638 reported cases of flu last year and department officials said it was likely more cases were not unreported.

The health department has ordered 8,500 doses of flu vaccine and expects no delays in their delivery. Martin said some of the vaccine will come from the Chiron Corp., which said it would delay some shipments after it discovered four million tainted doses in its supply.

All the doses distributed on Nov. 4 will be standard injections. The department also purchased the FluMist nasal vaccine but will not use it at the clinic because of storage issues and the vaccine’s potential danger to the elderly, young children and people in poor health.

Forecasts for the coming flu season will not be made until late September or early October, Martin said, when the disease starts to appear on the East and West coasts and in Texas.

For more information, call the Columbia/Boone County Health Department at 874-7355.

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