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Officials practice reacting to pandemic
Maryann Kifferly was visiting from Arizona and decided it would be just to convenient to pass up the drive-through immunization. - photo by Photo by Alena Parker.
Some history
The last pandemic flu was in 1968, one of the only three times it has happened in the 20th century. With no previous exposure, there usually is little or no immunity.
In addition to staging its signature drive-through flu immunization clinics, the Liberty County Health Department partnered with Fort Stewart last week to plan, set up and run a point of distribution exercise in case the need to respond to a pandemic ever arises.
The operation tests the health department’s ability to provide immunizations to a large population during a significant event or outbreak.
According to Annette Neu, the district director for emergency preparedness and response, if a disease outbreak or bioterrorism disaster mandated an actual point of distribution, medicine from the Centers of Disease Control’s strategic stockpiles would be delivered to local health departments and officials would set up at specific points to administer forms and vaccines to residents. Patients also would receive counseling and information on the medicine or vaccine used.
Military personnel and civilians who took part in the distribution exercise or opted for the regular drive-through clinic braved last week’s cold snap to roll up their sleeve for vaccines.
Maryann Kifferly of Arizona gets her flu shot every year but chuckled when she first heard of receiving the vaccine in a drive-through.
“I relate drive-through to food, not a shot,” Kifferly said with a smile.
Kifferly, who was visiting her son in Liberty County, usually gets her annual flu shot at her neighborhood fire station, but she thought the idea of being able to stay in the car was convenient.
 “I like this idea because I can get in the car, go and keep right on going. I don’t have to stand in line,” Kifferly said.
Health department public information officer Linda Ratcliffe said the point of distribution simulation was good practice.
“Ideally, this is an exercise prototype we use if we have a pandemic,” Ratcliffe said. “This is obviously faster and much easier on the population.”
Neu thinks the point of distribution basic model is flexible enough to use for other settings.
“Possibly during a pandemic when a lot of people are sick, you could probably do triages in this and decide who goes to the hospital and who should be taken care of,” Neu said.
Neu thought the exercise went well and said proximity to the military gives Liberty County an added advantage in preparation over the other seven counties in the Coastal Health district.
Dr. (Maj.) Shannon Ellis, the Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield public health emergency officer, agreed.
“We can help them with security and they can help us get our population, because a lot of our population lives off post,” Ellis said. “We’re not like a city among ourselves.”
He said in a real-world scenario it would take 12 hours to set up and 36 hours to dispense the medicine palettes from the CDC.
An interagency agreement with the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services requires the military to cooperate with the local health department to conduct joint exercises.
“We have a MOU (memorandum of understanding) right now to say this is how we’re going to do it,” Ellis said. “So it’s good to have this and we’re kind of refining our techniques.”
One of the objectives of the exercise was to help people know the procedure.
“It’s a comfort thing, too, that they know that we’re taking effort and steps to protect them in a real case scenario,” Ellis said. “Now, with the way the world is, you can’t just ignore these threats.”
Frank Versele, an air conditioner contractor for Air Care, decided to take part in the exercise when he saw the sign while servicing equipment on the roof of Baldino’s.
Last year, he got his flu shot at Kroger in Richmond Hill, but he was told he could not have it done this year without a doctor’s prescription.
Versele said he appreciated the simplicity, convenience and courtesy of the process.


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