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Exercise in efficiency

November 30, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Some of the approximately 3,200 Washington County residents who got influenza vaccinations Monday used words such as "efficient," "quick" and "like clockwork" to describe the procedures that Washington County Health Department employees used to give the shots to those who pre-registered.

Many residents interviewed - including some given the vaccinations in their cars because they could not walk - expressed relief that they were receiving the inoculations, considering it appeared for a while as if Washington County would not have a flu clinic this year due to a vaccine shortage.

What those who turned out didn't know was that the Health Department was treating the day as "a bioterrorism exercise" to prepare workers in case a pandemic should occur and the vaccine had to be distributed quickly, said William Christoffel, the county's health officer.

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At the end of the day, Christoffel said the drill involving 100 Health Department employees, including 40 nurses, was a success as they demonstrated how rapidly a medication can be distributed. The Health Department more than doubled the number of vaccinations it administered on any one day in the past, Christoffel said.

The Health Department last year vaccinated about 6,200 people at a series of clinics, Christoffel said.

The Health Department gave out about half that amount on Monday alone and planned to vaccinate another 1,200 residents today, Christoffel said.

"Everything was very convenient," Glenn Crawford, 79, of Hagerstown, said after receiving the vaccination.

"I think it is terrific. There is no wait and they were very pleasant," said Laban Showalter, 86, of Maugansville.

Don Hamburg, 77, of Hagerstown, was among those given curbside service.

"It could not be better. It is rather well organized," he said. "Everything went like clockwork."

Dolores Monninger, 74, of Halfway, pulled up to the curb, got out of her car and was about to get a wheelchair for her husband, Harry Monninger, 77, when she was told she could get back inside her car.

"It is unbelievable. That is what you call service," she said.

The Health Department asked the residents not to disclose where the vaccinations were distributed Monday, to prevent people without appointments from showing up, Christoffel said.

The appointments, made by phone, were made available only to residents considered at "high risk" for complications should they come down with the flu, he said.

Of the 6,000 doses of vaccine available to the Health Department this year, it previously gave about 1,200 doses to people in nursing homes and assisted living centers, according to Christoffel.

The Health Department has not decided how it will distribute any vaccine that might remain after today, he said.

The Health Department probably will use the same process - making appointments and providing curbside service - again next year, he said.

Earlier this year, health departments across the country, including in Washington County, were scrambling to find flu vaccine after learning that British regulators shut down a major supplier, Chiron Corp. The county later received vaccinations from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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