Mass vaccinations include the valley | AspenTimes.com

Mass vaccinations include the valley

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EL JEBEL ” Preparing for a health emergency of pandemic proportions is no small task. It takes a lot of planning and preparation.

The Health and Human Services Departments for Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties are all participating in a statewide emergency response exercise on Saturday in El Jebel to test the emergency response plan for mass vaccinations.

“Our goal is to vaccinate between 700 and 1,000 people in two hours on Saturday,” said Jill Hunsaker, Eagle County public health manager.

Hunsaker has participated in past emergency exercises with much success. Last year, two stations in Eagle County managed to meet the goal of vaccinating 700 people in a two-hour time frame. They are continually trying to increase the capacity each year. That is the point of this weekend’s exercise.

“It’s a way for us to test our emergency response,” Hunsaker said.

Health and Human Services use an Incident Command System for emergency responders, similar to what police and fire department follow in mass emergencies. The exercise began Thursday with the distribution of vaccines from Denver to all regions of the state ” to distribution points where the vaccines are administered to the general public.

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“The issue with a pandemic flu is that it has a potential to make a lot of people ill in a short amount of time,” Hunsaker said. “So, the challenge for us is that it’s hard to test for an outbreak of that magnitude.”

So, Hunsaker said, the exercises give the department an opportunity to devise a more efficient way of distributing a vaccination to a large number of people in a very short time. El Jebel, in the middle of the Roaring Fork Valley, is where the three counties converge, making it a perfect point of distribution for the three counties.

“As public health agencies, we all work together,” Hunsaker said. “Having a clinic in El Jebel makes the most sense logistically.”

Hunsaker said she expects a good turnout, but a lot of people have already received a flu shot for this season. She does encourage those who haven’t to visit the clinic and help them in the exercise.

“It is an event for us to test our preparedness,” Hunsaker said. “But it’s an option for people to get a flu vaccination as well, especially for younger children and seniors, who it’s so important to get a vaccine.”