McDuffie County doesn't quite know if it is ready to handle a pandemic influenza outbreak. Local health and emergency officials hope to have those questions answered during a March 10 emergency immunization drill at Thomson High School.
"It's going to be very important in our preparedness for any kind of pandemic flu," said McDuffie County EMA Director Bruce Tanner. "It'll tell us what our capabilities are and what we need to work on to get our county ready."
According to McDuffie County resident Jerry Harden, the strategic national stockpile program manager for the East Central Health District, the drill is the first of its kind in Georgia.
"As best we know, it's going to be the first statewide standalone county pandemic influenza/mass immunization exercise," Mr. Harden said. "The state and we have done several mass immunization type exercises, but it's always been the whole entire district congregating on the county."
McDuffie is the third largest in the 13-county district. This presented the perfect population mix to make the drill a challenge, Mr. Harden said.
"McDuffie County doesn't have the population that some of these other counties do," he said. "It's spread out...but still, it's a pretty good sized population that we have to get."
The object of the drill is to find out if resources within McDuffie County could handle immunizing the entire population against a pandemic flu outbreak within 72 hours. That's about 224 patients per hour.
The drill won't last three days, Mr. Harden said, more like three hours. After a while, volunteers will start to get the hang of the process, and the average number people receiving the mock immunization per hour should fall in line with what is needed to take care of the county's population for the target time frame.
Upwards of 200 Thomson High School Health Occupation students will act as patients during the exercise, being cycled through the process of screening and pseudo-immunization over and over.
"Since we physically will not be able to volunteer the whole county to participate, we will just run these students through the process...and then they'll exit out the door, hop on the bus to leave," Mr. Harden said. "The bus, in reality, will circle the parking lot and let them back out."
Other than the students, the Health Department is looking to recruit volunteers for the event as well as the Medical Reserve Corps, which will be conducting the screening and mock immunizations. The corps consists of medical professionals who are specifically trained for emergency situations like the drill.
"We have the volunteers to run through a few hours, but for us to go for three days straight, that's a tough one," Mr. Harden said. "We want to learn everything, but at the same time, we want to get community awareness up and get those volunteers we're going to need for the real thing."
Set up for the immunization drill begins at 9 a.m. on March 10. Those wanting to volunteer for the event need to contact McDuffie County Health Department Director Virginia Bradshaw at 706-595-1740 to receive the appropriate training prior to the event.