Flu season and the desire to have as many county residents vaccinated as possible proved an opportune time for San Joaquin Public Health officials to stage a mass vaccination exercise as part of their emergency response training in the event of a biological threat or epidemic.
By offering free seasonal influenza shots, health officials were able to attract close to 400 members of the general public to two staging areas Friday morning - Lodi's Grape Festival Grounds and Manteca's Calvary Community Church.
"These mass vaccination clinics test our ability to move a lot of people through in three hours," said emergency preparedness coordinator Roberto Alaniz, who is also senior deputy director of San Joaquin County Public Health Services.
"We would use a mass vaccination clinic in case there was a vaccine that needed to get out to the community very quickly. Using point of dispensing is more appropriate to an anthrax attack for a defined portion of the community, where you need to get it out quickly - also antivirals and antibiotics that you need to get out in a hurry that the private sector is not prepared to handle," Alaniz said.
In the event of a large-scale public health emergency, the agency would be expected to distribute medication or vaccine to one or more communities within San Joaquin County to protect the general public from biological threats or epidemics.
Conducting a mass dispensing clinic at a strategic location has proved to be the most efficient way to protect the largest number of people. The location is referred to as a Point of Dispensing, or POD, site.
The Public Health Services Emergency Preparedness Program collaborates with community partners and volunteers. Friday, they were assisted by 38 volunteers - 22 in Lodi and 16 in Manteca - including firefighters and police officers from Lodi, Manteca and Ripon; members of the Stockton Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, American Red Cross and nurses registered with the state's Disaster Healthcare Volunteers (healthcarevolunteers.ca.gov).
"This is one of the areas the federal government wants us to be ready for. They call it medical countermeasure dispensing," Alaniz said, explaining that the county receives about $1 million a year to cover the costs of emergency preparedness, hospital readiness and public health outreach efforts. The county is expected to work with other agencies in the event of a health disaster scenario.
It has five mobile POD trailers maintained by first responders around the county, required by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to be able to provide preventive care to all residents within 48 hours. Set-up has to be as rapid and efficient as possible, so practice is important, Alaniz said.
The POD trailers contain everything but medicine needed to set up an off-site clinic, including office supplies, signage, generators, delineators, vests to identify positions, handheld radios, bullhorns, batteries, extension cords, handtrucks, hospital gowns, masks, hazardous-materials containers and bags.
"We tested our communications with ham radio operators and cellphones. We had a pretty good picture of what was going on with the exercise, and we shared it with leaders here at public health (headquarters in Stockton)," Alaniz said at the conclusion of Friday's training.
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