Local News

January 11, 2014

Health district readies for pandemic, other emergencies

If the United States gets hit with a flu pandemic or biological attack by terrorists, public health officials might have to distribute large amounts of vaccines or other drugs in a very short time.

But officials with the North Georgia Health District, which covers Whitfield and Murray counties, have been practicing and refining their efforts to respond to such emergencies for years, though many people may never have noticed.

“There are two types of dispensing mechanisms, the traditional walk-through and the drive-through,” said David Huskey, health district director for emergency preparedness. “We have found that in our district the drive-through process is the one we will be most successful with.”

The district and local health departments had drive-through flu shot clinics each fall for the past four or five years.

“We’ve found that it is more efficient, takes fewer people and less time than the walk-through process,” Huskey said.

Based on those experiences, the health district has refined the process and bought mobile equipment to speed it up. Officials plan on using that model and the lessons they’ve learned to mass distribute vaccines or drugs in the event of an emergency.

“Our drive-through clinics have been very successful. We’ve been doing this all over the district, and when your staff has that sort of experience it increases their ability to do it,” Huskey said.

He said the district has worked with volunteers and other local agencies, such as law enforcement, giving them experience that will help them work together in the event of an emergency.

The points of distribution would not provide medical care, only pass out vaccines or antibiotics or other drugs to treat illness. Huskey said the federal government maintains stockpiles of the vaccines and other drugs most likely to be needed during a pandemic or terrorist attack. Once the local health district has exhausted any of its stores of those materials it could call on the federal government stockpiles.

The trade center has generally hosted Whitfield County’s drive-through flu shots. But Huskey said there are a number of places in the county that could host the mass distribution of emergency medicines.

“We have at least three places in each county where we can do this, and the trade center is just one place this could take place,” Huskey said. “But I do admit that it is the best location in terms of what we need, to string the cars out and effectively manage the process.”

Jennifer King, public information officer for the North Georgia Health District, said the sites for any mass distribution of emergency vaccines and drugs would likely be released only a few hours before the distribution begins to keep those sites from being overwhelmed before staff are ready.

She said if local officials do distribute such drugs, the public should keep an eye on local media for any information.

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