Free flu shots offered as part of pandemic exercise

As part of a pandemic emergency response exercise, free flu shots will be offered to the community from 9 a.m. to noon this Saturday at Homer High School.

To practice for a Point of Dispensing, or POD, Emergency Response Plan, the free flu shots will help the community prepare for an actual public emergency. The drill also provides a public health service by providing flu shots to help prevent disease, said Derotha Ferraro, spokesperson for South Peninsula Hospital, one of the agencies participating in the exercise.

“It is critical for public health officials, health care professionals, public safety and emergency responders to plan and prepare for possible pandemics,” Ferraro said.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, the event will exercise the community’s mass dispensing plan for an open Point of Dispensing site to quickly dispense medication from the Strategic National Stockpile, Ferraro said.

The preservative free flu shots are appropriate for children six months and older, adults and pregnant women. Seniors will get the high dose version.

“This exercise will not only help the city and community prepare for emergency response, but it will also provide a much needed, very valuable public health service for all by providing free flu shots,” said Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Terry Kadel at the Nov. 26 Homer City Council meeting.

The exercise will help the participating agencies practice opening, operating and closing an open point of dispensing site, Kadel said, “in the event of a public health emergency for the Southern Kenai Peninsula region.”

One-hundred years ago near the end of World War I, an estimated 50 million people died worldwide from the most severe flu pandemic in recent history, with more than 600,000 deaths in the United States. According to a report by the Alaska Division of Public Health reprinted in the November 2018 issue of Alaska Medicine, 1,113 Alaskans died in the 2-year 1918-19 pandemic, 51 percent of all deaths in that time frame.

At its peak in November 2018, 831 Alaskans died of the Spanish flu. Most of the deaths, or 82 percent, were Alaska Natives. Most of the deaths were people ages 30 to 44 followed by children ages newborn to 14. Most of the deaths, 709, were in the Nome area, with 57 deaths on the Kenai Peninsula and 21 in Anchorage.

South Peninsula Hospital also conducts its own Point of Dispensing exercise this week, what’s called a “closed POD.” In the event of a pandemic, health care workers also would be given vaccinations or medicine.

“The first thing you want to do is arm the health care workers,” Ferraro said.

In the closed POD exercise, hospital staff will set up an Incident Command center, with the goal of dispensing medicine within two hours to all staff. For the exercise, staff will be given M & M candy to simulate handing out medicine. Ferraro compared a closed POD to what airplane passengers are told in pre-flight talks about the loss of oxygen.

“When the oxygen drops, you put it (oxygen masks) on yourself and help those around you,” she said.

The POD exercise is coordinated by the State of Alaska Section of Public Health Nursing, in cooperation with the City of Homer, South Peninsula Hospital, Kachemak Emergency Services, SVT Health and Wellness, Kenai Peninsula Borough and KPB School District, and other agencies.

The free influenza vaccines are provided by the State of Alaska Department of Epidemiology.

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