BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Regional Health Department (SCRHD) will be offering free flu shots Saturday as part of an emergency preparedness drill.
The primary goal of the drill is to test the agency’s plans to respond quickly in case of a pandemic or other situation requiring treatment of a large segment of the population.
This drill is different from most because it’s not entirely a “mock” response. Participants will actually receive a flu vaccination.
It couldn’t have come at a better time, said Laura Boggan, public information coordinator for the SCRHD’s Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Although it’s been colder in recent weeks, otherwise warmer weather, and lack of an “outbreak” of flu so far, have meant a lackluster response from the public to flu shots this year, health officials said last week.
“There’s a just not been a huge turnout of folks seeking flu shots,” said Boggan. “There’s a lot of vaccine on hand.”
But many people may not realize flu season’s traditional “peak” has not yet passed.
“We’re coming up on time for flu season to peak,” Boggan said. “But we haven’t seen that yet this year. We’re still seeing just sporadic cases of the flu. Because we haven’t had a lot of flu, and because of the largely warmer weather, people just haven’t been thinking as much about getting a flu shot.”
Flu can spread like wildfire once it hits a school.
“We really want to try to get school age children especially, to get in for flu shots,” Boggan said. “Whenever they get the flu it helps spread that through the community much quicker. They take it home and spread it to their families. We’re trying to head-off the flu in our area this year without having a heavy outbreak.”
According to information released by the SCRHD on Friday, flu season typically begins to peak in January — but it can last as late as May.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a national agency, flu activity peaked in January or later during 26 of the past 30 influenza seasons, Boggan said.
“We are doing an emergency preparedness drill to test or POD, which stands for point of dispensing,” Boggan said. “That’s basically our mass-vaccination clinics we would have to set up in order to dispense vaccinations or medications to the public in the event of an emergency or pandemic.”
Original plans call for that to be achieved in Sullivan County by opening three POD clinics, with an estimation of vaccinating the entire county population in 10 days. A recent national initiative, however, calls for larger cities to complete the task in 48 hours — by opening more clinics and having more volunteers.
Saturday’s local drill will test county’s plans to meet that goal if need be, Boggan said.
The county is not under mandate to meet that guideline at this point, but local officials decided to prepare for it because certain scenarios could require it, Boggan said.
“In the event of a disaster or pandemic, the Health Department will set up enough PODs to vaccinate the entire Sullivan County population within a 48-hour time frame,” said Dr. Andrew Stephen May, Regional Medical Director with the department. “We have plans in place to make this happen, but we can’t wait until a disaster happens to see if these plans work. We must test them now.”
“It’ll help us tremendously to see if we need to do major renovations to our plans,” Boggan said. “We need a good showing from the public to really test it, and as a bonus they’re going to get a free flu shot. What we’ll do is time ourselves to see how quickly we can give shots and get people through the process and see how realistic it is to do this.”
If you’ve already had a flu shot this year but want to help with the drill, you’re encouraged to participate, Boggan said.
“We can send them through and do a mock vaccination,” she said. “It shouldn’t take individuals more than 10 or 15 minutes to go through the process.”
The Sullivan County Regional Health Department’s Point of Dispensing Emergency Preparedness Drill will take place on Jan. 12 from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. at the department’s Blountville and Kingsport locations.
“This year anyone can receive the flu vaccine even if they do not fall into a high risk groups,” said May. “We are encouraging people young and old to volunteer. By doing so, they will not only help us prepare for the inconceivable possibility of a major disaster in our community, but they will also help protect themselves and their loved ones by receiving their flu shot.”
Anyone interested should reserve your flu shot by calling the Sullivan County Regional Health Department at 423-279-2663 by Friday, Jan. 11. The free flu shots available to exercise participants will be offered while supplies last.
According to the CDC:
• Each year in the United States alone approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized and an average of 36,000 people die from the flu.
•There are simple actions that can help stop the spread of germs and help protect you from getting sick.
•Wash your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
•Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
•Cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands or cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
•Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
•Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.