Lexington County tests flu emergency plan

Swine flu vaccinations given at makeshift site

joconnor@thestate.comJanuary 17, 2010 

  • Is the flu gone?

    H1N1 cases have declined in South Carolina in recent weeks, but officials say the flu could return.

    Suzanne Sanders, with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said health officials worry there could be a third wave, following spring and fall outbreaks, of swine flu.

    The best defense, Sanders said, is to get the H1N1 vaccine. Many health departments, clinics and pharmacies offer the vaccine, which comes in both injectable and nasal mist doses.

    A separate vaccine is needed for the seasonal flu.

    "We don't know how long the threat will last," Sanders said. "It's a different animal than the seasonal flu. We don't want people to make that assumption (that the flu is gone)."

About 600 people received free shots Saturday at a clinic designed to prevent the spread of the swine flu and also to provide a test run for a network of public safety workers, health care workers and volunteers for future emergencies.

Organizers turned Lexington County ball fields into a temporary hospital, quickly moving people from registration to vaccination in just a few minutes.

The event was organized following the April outbreak of H1N1, also known as swine flu, across South Carolina and the rest of the country. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, 80 million Americans have been infected with the flu and as many as 16,000 have died.

Vaccine supplies have been tight, said S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control spokeswoman Suzanne Sanders, but a large supply was released in December. Authorities had 3,000 injectable or nasal mist doses for Saturday's clinic.

Among those receiving the vaccine was the family of Kevin Jones. Jones, of West Columbia, said his wife and two children were vaccinated.

"There was trouble getting the vaccine" last year, Jones said. Saturday's event "was really well organized. I was really impressed."

Batesburg-Leesville resident Paul Doughton, 59, said he also had trouble finding the vaccine. Doughton said he got the vaccine because health officials warn a third wave of H1N1 is possible.

"It's not seasonal," he said. The vaccine "hasn't been available until recently."

Doughton's wife, Cheryl, noted the clinic looked like it could help earthquake victims in Haiti.

And organizers said part of the flu clinic's purpose was to serve as a dress rehearsal for other emergencies.

Lexington County officials bought the equipment in the past few years using federal homeland security grants. County EMS director Brian Hood said the medical tent used to administer the shots could be set up in less than 90 minutes, and treat flu, anthrax or other medical emergencies.

Another longer-term medical tent could treat as many as 50 patients and was designed to withstand winds up to 90 miles per hour.

Hood said all the operations were run off portable generators to determine how long fuel supplies would last, and when a fuel truck might be needed on-site at a longer-term emergency.

"Can you go to a place that doesn't have the infrastructure and do this?" Hood said. "If we're in the middle of a cornfield tomorrow we can do the same thing."

Organizers tapped state, county, town and hospital professionals, as well as volunteers with the Community Emergency Response Team, the S.C. Baptist Disaster Relief Group and others.

Saturday was the first time all the groups had worked together.

"It's much more an opportunity for us to work the logistics," Hood said, "to work the bugs out."

Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.

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