Northampton health officials prepare for the worse

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 22, 2006

JACKSON – Is the Northampton County Heath Department prepared to deal with mass immunizations in the event of a pandemic outbreak?

Judging from the success of a drive-thru clinic held here Oct. 29, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Northampton Health officials were pleased with the clinic, one where nearly 200 individuals were immunized with the flu vaccine in less than four hours.

According to Northampton Health Department spokesperson Sharon Long, the drive-thru clinic, held on a Sunday afternoon, received positive feedback from those receiving services.

“Those receiving vaccinations from the comfort of their own vehicles said it was easier and quicker than having to come in to the health department facility during normal weekday working hours,” Long said.

Long added that 198 individuals were immunized.

The four-hour clinic was made extremely simple n one wishing to receive a flu vaccination drove-up in a vehicle, filled out the necessary paperwork, was administered the shot and paid for the services.

Additionally, the event served another purpose.

“Not only was this an opportunity for the public to guard against the flu by receiving a flu vaccination, it was also a practice for us in regards to incident command,” Long said. “By offering a mobile clinic, it gave us some training just in case we have to perform a mass vaccination due to some sort of pandemic outbreak.”

While there is no pandemic flu outbreak at the current time, health officials closely monitor the situation during the months of October through April. Flu pandemics are caused by new flu viruses. Because they are new, humans have little or no immunity to them, thus leading to a rapid spread of the virus from person to person.

Northampton County Health Director Sue Gay served as the Incident Commander. Assisted by a small army of staff members as well as those from other Northampton County agencies, Gay was able to evaluate and document the events of the afternoon. She paid close attention to the set-up time and how the cars and patients moved through the processing stations.

In the meantime, Northampton County Health officials will continue to closely monitor the flu season. Working with state health officials, the local office is able to use technology to detect unusual illnesses at hospital emergency departments across the state; educate healthcare workers to be on the alert for signs of unusual illnesses; remain prepared to distribute vaccines and antiviral medications in the event of a pandemic outbreak and work with education, business, community and faith groups to help everyone prepare in the event of a worse-case scenario.

While this one event has ended, Northampton Health officials still urge county citizens to receive a flu shot prior to the normal months where influenza activity increases. The Center for Disease Control highly recommends the following priority groups receive a flu shot:

Children, ages 6-59 months;

Pregnant women;

Persons ages 50-and-over;

Those of any age with certain chronic medical conditions;

Healthcare workers, and;

Persons who live with or care for persons at high risk, including household contact and those who can transmit influenza to high-risk individuals.

Vaccinations are available at the Northampton County Health Department, located on NC 305 north of Jackson, during normal weekday hours.

For more information, call 534-5841.