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Health district holds emergency preparedness exercise

Frederick County Public Schools employees wait in line to get flu immunizations on Tuesday at Sherando High School. The drive-through clinic was part of an emergency preparedness exercise put on by the Lord Fairfax Health District. Courtesy photo by Charles Devine.

By Kim Walter

The Lord Fairfax Health District teamed up with the Virginia Department of Health on Monday and Tuesday to hold a full-scale "Point of Dispensing" exercise, while also giving out influenza immunizations.

In the Sherando High School parking lot in Stephens City, health department staff, with help from local fire and rescue, set up two large tents for vehicles to pass through while the driver and any other school employee got a flu vaccine. Because of grant funding for the exercise, the vaccines were free to employees and were not part of the stock of vaccine that the health department already has.

Tents and check-in tables were set up in the parking lot both days from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and vaccine stations were also set up inside the school's cafeteria. Over the course of both days, 536 immunizations were given out, according to the health district's director, Dr. Charles Devine.

"First, this exercise was an effort to get even more folks immunized before the flu season hits," he said. "And really, it is very easy for the employees, they just get their vaccines and go."

From the health department's side, though, the exercise was also a way to test their emergency preparedness. The health district is required to hold at least one similar drill a year, and the one held this week just happened to incorporate a clinic, Devine said.

"The other goal of this was to stress our department and employees," he said. "This will help us find shortfalls in our planning."

He said that in the event of some kind of mass infection, the health department would need to be ready to provide large quantities of medications and vaccinations, and the exercise lent itself to preparing for such a situation.

Additionally, Devine said the equipment that was used for the exercise could also be available if some kind of emergency shelter were needed in the area.

"It's really a rather large operation," he said. The tents took about two hours to set up, but they were worth the work as Monday's turnout required the use of two lanes and tents. As employees entered the parking lot, staff checked paperwork to make sure it was properly filled out. Employees moved to a second station where the paperwork was checked again, and individuals were questioned to ensure they were able to get the flu vaccination.

Devine said that while most people have received the flu vaccine, it still isn't too late.

"Immunization offers the best protection from influenza," he said. "We recommend that everyone age 6 months and older be immunized yearly with the seasonal flu vaccine."

He added that it's never certain when the flu season will hit, so it's better to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Individuals shouldn't worry about the effects running out if they got their shot early, as it lasts a full year. The reason it's important to get a shot yearly is because the kinds of flu change with the season, Devine said.

"Also, the vaccine takes about two weeks to work its way through the immune system, so I really can't stress enough how important it is to just get the shot soon," he said.

Devine said that some of the staff working the exercise included Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and student nurses, and they hadn't been through an exercise like the one held this week.

"It's kind of exciting, seeing that we can come together and pull something like this off," he said. Any extra vaccines will be used to immunize students in Page County, he added.

"There's never enough people who get immunized, but anything we can do to help, we will," he said. "Just remember, the sooner, the better."

The local health district offers walk-in immunizations on Monday and Friday, but appointments can be scheduled for other days and times by calling ahead.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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