NDDH clinic fights more than the flu

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Jan. 28, 2013
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Derek May oversaw the clinic for the NDDH. Photos by D. Coffey.
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Derek May oversaw the clinic for the NDDH. Photos by D. Coffey.

A mother and child showed up at the Northeastern District Department of Health for a flu clinic held on Jan. 24. They walked up to a table where NDDH Education and Communications Coordinator Linda Colangelo was welcoming people and giving out information and paperwork. “Welcome to your Public Health Department,” she said cheerfully. Whether from her cheerfulness or the ease of getting his shot, or the expertise of the Medical Reserve Corps nurses who administered it, the little boy didn't cry. He and his mother were in and out quickly. That was one of the goals of the flu clinic in the first place.

NDDH Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Derek May called Thursday's event a dual-purpose clinic. “First, we are serving a public health need by delivering yearly vaccinations which prevent the spread of contagious diseases,” he said. The clinic was specifically aimed at vaccinating children who had not received a flu shot and whose doctors may have run out of their seasonal supply. The second purpose was to practice for a possible pandemic or bio-terrorist attack.

“Since 2001, federal, state and local public health have been working on plans for medication 'points of dispensing,' known as PODs,” said May. “These PODs are places where large numbers of people could go to receive medication that would treat or protect them from a disease agent. Every seasonal flu clinic is basically a small-scale version of a POD.”

One of the roles NDDH fills is stepping in where there is a public health need. With doctors' offices running through supplies, and the flu season particularly strong, NDDH asked for and received 100 doses of the vaccine from the Connecticut Department of Health. “If you or I want a flu shot tonight, we could go to the pharmacy,” May said. Even with occasional shortages, pharmacies are able to provide flu shots to those individuals over 18 years of age. In Connecticut, pharmacies cannot provide flu vaccines to children under 18. “Public health steps in to help fill those gaps,” May said.

During the last part of 2012, NDDH administered 250 doses in a flu vaccination campaign. Those are small numbers compared to doctors' offices and other health departments. “The reason we keep our hand in it is to practice for a big vaccination, if we ever had to do it,” May said. “It's basically the same as a big clinic, just on a smaller scale.”

People came into a large community room, spoke to a NDDH representative, registered, filled out paperwork, then moved to another area for their vaccination. May said there was a drive-through flu clinic in Groton early in the season. “People drove in, received forms or brought them in after printing them out at home, filled it out, drove to the next spot where someone reviewed them and then they drove ahead into one of three vaccination lanes. Teams vaccinated people right in their cars. I think it was just over four minutes from time in to time out,” he said. “That's good if you're trying to plan for something large scale.”

NDDH serves a population of 88,000. The department's mandate is to get those people vaccinated within 36 hours in the event of a biological attack. The Centers for Disease Control set that standard based on possible anthrax attacks. “We'd need to get medicine to people before symptoms really started showing,” May said.

Getting 88,000 people vaccinated in such a case would require an army of volunteers, said May. The NDDH has access to public health employees as well as Medical Reserve Corps volunteers. The organization has been recruiting and training local citizens for the Corps. May said the NDDH continues to seek volunteers who could assist with medical and non-medical skills. For more information, contact Derek May at dmay@nddh.org or www.nddh.org.

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