Sunday, May 3, 2009

Alaska: Mass Vaccination Drill; Children Were Given Varivax, Merck’s Chicken Pox Vaccine

Via: KTUU:

Alaska health officials and the Anchorage School District teamed up Wednesday to prepare for a worst case scenario by practicing a mass dispensing of vaccines.

The exercise comes as the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert, which means it believes a global outbreak of the swine flu is imminent.

No cases of swine flu have been reported in Alaska. Still, health officials say it is possible swine flu will reach our state, and they want to be ready in case it does.

Over the past two weeks, 11 schools have participated in an exercise to distribute the chicken pox vaccine to students.

This is also a chance to practice dispensing medication in the event of a large scale emergency, according to the Department of Health and Social Services and the school district.

Two Anchorage schools on Wednesday had a special delivery from the health department.

The schools received hundreds of doses of the varicella vaccine, which is used to prevent chicken pox.

The state requires all elementary students receive two shots of the vaccine by next year.

“Part of it is getting a jump on that cause,” said Mark Mew, the school district’s director of security and emergency preparedness. “There is obviously going to be a rush at the doctor’s office and the Health Department.”

This is also a chance for the district to practice its ability to deliver a lot of medication on short notice.

“We have a responsibility as the Department of Health and Human services to really have a high level of capacity to be able to deal with public health emergencies should they occur,” DHSS Deputy Director Jayson Smart said.

The school district says it wants to be ready to help out in the event of a pandemic.

“We’ve known for a couple of years that we’ve got a threat of pandemic flu, everybody’s been thinking about avian influenza for the last few years,” Mew said.

This is the third time DHSS and the school district have teamed up for a mass vaccination drill.

The majority of staff who helped with the drill is employed by the district, but some are volunteers.

“And when we do these kinds of exercises or practices, it helps us kind of identify, where do we have problems in things we need to fix to be better at doing that. This is a great practicing opportunity,” Smart said.

The timing of this pandemic practice couldn’t be better now that swine flu is sweeping across the nation.

“It wasn’t the reason we’re doing this necessarily, but certainly timely. It’s got everybody’s mind on that topic right now,” said Mew.

Over the past two weeks, the district distributed nearly 2,000 chicken pox vaccines to students from kindergarten to sixth grade.

The district said its practice is paying off. It can now give more than 100 shots in less than an hour.