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Protecting Our Community From the Flu While Practicing Our Response Plans: Annual Drive-Thru Point of Distribution Exercise in Onondaga County, New York

Author: Bobbi Alcock, CVA: Coordinator, CNY Medical Reserve Corps
Published Date: 12/7/2015 4:41:00 PM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Exercises & Trainings;

How do you practice mass prophylaxis/point of distribution (POD) plans, keep Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers actively engaged, and ensure that first responders are protected against seasonal influenza? The Onondaga County Health Department combines all three in an annual drive-thru influenza vaccination exercise.

Why use a drive thru POD? A drive through model helps us do a few very important things. Social distancing, the practice of keeping the sick people away from the healthy people, is critical during a real outbreak. Using a drive-thru POD helps us protect our staff while they dispense medicine. For Onondaga County, the drive-thru model also helps reduce personnel requirements —one large POD is easier to manage than several smaller, simultaneous PODs. How do you meaningfully test your plans to deploy a POD in an emergency with enough people to assess key components of the operation? By involving your partners!

First response organizations helped connect us with a manageable number of clients each year so that we can test the plan. The Onondaga County Health Department focuses on first responders as key partners because we want our responders to remain healthy and protect those they serve – the public and their families. The drive-thru POD provides us the perfect opportunity to do both. Now many of our county first responders receive their flu shot at this exercise each October because it is so convenient.

When most health departments practice their POD plans, it is usually for a few hours. We know that in reality, a POD response would require multiple shifts. Very few health departments have the personnel to maintain a POD operation while still continuing to deliver essential services. That’s why partnerships with MRC units and community organizations are crucial. OCHD recognizes the need for our local MRC unit—Central New York MRC—to provide the additional staff that we need to successfully run the POD. This MRC provides roughly 20-25 percent of the personnel needed for the drive-thru exercise and in all roles: traffic, medical screening, and prophylaxis and they help us make this event a success.

Involving our local MRC unit in the exercise benefits everyone. The health department can pull less staff from their daily duties, the volunteers get to practice alongside health department staff to more seamlessly fit into the operation, and the MRC is able to demonstrate its capabilities. MRC volunteers can see how important they are to our health department and are excited about their involvement. Many come back each year and some even get involved in other POD activities.

Practicing and testing our plans is essential to strengthening operations—you never know how it will work out and when and where it may go wrong. Successfully working with partners, getting volunteers actively involved, and having enough resources to meaningfully test the plan are our outcomes. The icing on the cake is when we can also protect the health of our public!

Your community may not have a POD set up in your neighborhood, but there are probably many places in your neighborhood where you can get a flu shot. Vaccination only takes a few minutes and it is the best way to protect against the flu. To find a vaccine location in your area, check out the HealthMap Vaccine Finder

 

Nurse checking in drive-up flu vaccine participant
People in cars lined up to receive flu vaccine
Nurse giving flu vaccine to a person in a car
 

 


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