Free flu shots part of bioterrorism drill

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Although organizers expect just 10 percent of the county's population to take advantage of the 4,000 free flu shots to be administered at the bioterrorism preparedness drill and vaccination clinic on Monday, more volunteers are being sought.

The 14-hour event, designed to simulate a mass smallpox vaccination clinic, will be held at the Berryville Community Center, from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.

"The more volunteers the merrier," said Richard Taffner, the northwest Arkansas regional bioterrorism/emergency response coordinator with the Arkansas Department of Health (AHD).

According to Taffner, a substantial volunteer base is essential because in a real emergency the entire population would need to be vaccinated on short notice.

Sherri Plumlee, administrator of the Carroll County Health Unit, said she has some volunteers but could use more, especially nurses, both RNs and LPNs.

For the drill, she said, health department nurses are coming from neighboring counties.

"But, during an actual emergency, they wouldn't come," she explained. "They would be busy elsewhere."

Plumlee says she understands that people are working that day, but in a real emergency, no one will have the luxury of choosing the day.

"I need volunteers for everything," she said, " including data entry people because everything has to be entered into a data base, and nurses, any amount of time they can give, plus someone at the staging area to direct volunteers, and people at the Community Center to take information, help with food service, and be runners at vaccinations stations."

Anyone interested can call (800) 554-5738, day or night throughout the weekend, and leave a message. Plumlee will return the call.

Both she and Taffner are organizing the drill by using attendance figures from other drills held elsewhere in the state.

Taffner said he attended a similar drill in Marion County last weekend, and a drill in Baxter County the previous year.

He said attendance at those were right at 10 percent of each county's population.

With Carroll County's population at approximately 25,000, he estimates 2,500 will show up for the 4,000 free flu vaccines.

"We don't anticipate running out," he said.

Taffner said the Marion County drill was held on a Saturday. Attendance was greatest in the early morning and at mid-afternoon.

In Baxter County, where the drill was held on a weekday. attendance was greatest early morning, at noon, and shortly after 5 p.m., when people were getting off work.

Based on these figures, Taffner suggests that people who aren't working that day try to come between 8 a.m. and noon, and again between 1 and 5 p.m.

Also, Taffner says people should not arrive too early because they won't be allowed in the parking lot until nearly 6 a.m.

"We'll have high security because of the simulation," he explained. "In times of terrorism, there would be utter chaos. That's the reason for security, volunteer ID tags and the staging area."

All volunteers are required to report to the Health Unit staging area on Hailey Road to check in and receive their ID tags.

The general public should report directly to the Community Center.

Taffner said past experience has shown that it usually takes 10 to 15 minutes for a person to receive their vaccination, that's from the time they leave their car until they return to it.

Plumlee noted that flu vaccines usually don't make people sick, although they can cause some redness or soreness in the area of the injection or possibly mild flu symptoms in the days following.

"Most people don't have any reaction," she said.

She suggests that people seeking the flu vaccine wear a short-sleeved shirt under a jacket or coat because there won't be much privacy.

She also noted that Linda Boyer, with KTHS Radio, will be issuing timely updates throughout the day on attendance figures at the Community Center.

She said food for volunteers will be provided by the American Red Cross and security is being coordinated by area law enforcement agencies.

The Berryville Community Center will be closed to all other activities that day, along with the Health Unit, which will also suspend all immunizations scheduled for Tuesday.

She said Carroll County is one of nine Arkansas counties conducting bioterrorism preparedness drills.

"The purpose of the exercise is to evaluate county plans for responding to a post bioterrorism event," explained Plumlee. "As a result of the clinic/exercise, Carroll County residents will be immunized for the flu ---- and better prepared in the event of a bioterrorism threat."

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