Colorado plans mass flu shots
November 14, 2007
DENVER ” Thousands of Coloradans could get free flu shots this week as part of a mass vaccination drill involving every public health agency in the state, a National Guard helicopter and ground transportation crews.
In one of the largest exercises of its kind in the country, health officials plan to vaccinate more than 20,000 people against the flu Saturday morning at 29 sites around the state. Health departments not offering shots in their own communities will send staff to assist at one of the distribution points.
The exercise is a test of how emergency workers would respond to a health pandemic.
With many of the shots being given away free, organizers hope a rush of people arriving for shots will simulate a real-life public-health crisis.
“This is not only public health officials and personnel exercising. We’re using the public to help us,” said Chris Lindley, director of the state health department’s emergency response section. “If they don’t show up Saturday, we don’t have an exercise.”
A National Guard helicopter taking off from Buckley Air Force Base in the Denver area will help deliver the vaccine statewide Friday, along with a private ground transportation firm. The helicopter will log about 550 miles as it flies to sites in southeast and southern Colorado, said Dana Erpelding, training and exercise manager in the state health department.
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The sites have not been disclosed.
Representatives from all 54 public health agencies in the state will administer the vaccine at spots ranging from the Coors Field parking lot in downtown Denver to the Prowers County Fairgrounds in Lamar, 165 miles southeast of Denver.
Some sites will charge a fee for the shots; others will dispense them free.
If certain sites are more popular than others, ground crews will redistribute vaccine in real time, much as they might have to in a real pandemic.
Local law-enforcement officers will be on hand. Individual local agencies will decide what role, if any, they play.
The exercise is funded by a federal grant. A final report on how well it worked is due Jan. 3, Erpelding said.
The drill is part of the “What If? Colorado” campaign, aimed not just at telling residents to plan for crises ” like the blizzards that paralyzed eastern Colorado in December ” but getting them to act.
A poll conducted for the health department in July showed 66 percent of the Colorado adults surveyed felt prepared for a three-day emergency, yet 73 percent of didn’t have an emergency preparedness kit.
“Since 9-11, we’ve all been told doom and gloom, the terrorist attacks are coming, the hurricanes are coming. We hear the threats every day, but very few people have taken the necessary steps to get their home and family in order to ensure if something happens they can live comfortably without outside assistance,” Lindley said.
“It’s an individual responsibility. You can’t sit back and think the government or anybody else is going to be there for you. It’s up to all of us,” he said.
The campaign included a publicly funded reality show on emergency preparedness filmed in September.
Would-be contestants submitted video applications and residents voted online for the participants. Nine finalists then lived together for three days in a Denver bed and breakfast and competed in challenges designed to educate viewers on how to prepare for emergencies.
One challenge had teams grill a dinner with canned food that might be in a family’s emergency kit. Cash and other prizes were up for grabs.
Episodes are still available online on YouTube and the campaign’s Web site. They had been viewed at least 14,000 times by mid-November.
Lindley said the show, funded by a $758,000 federal grant, was a much better investment than traditional advertising that viewers or readers might see only once.
“It’s something the health department has never done,” Lindley said. “It went far beyond what we expected. We’re very, very pleased.”