Howard County offers free flu shots

Clinic at Gateway Business Park will double as emergency-preparedness exercise

October 26, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Howard County health officials are offering up to 4,000 free flu inoculations next month at a drive-through clinic designed to reach twice as many people as a similar exercise last year.

The shots, which will be given from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 4 at Columbia's Gateway Business Park, are available to anyone, not just county residents, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the county's health officer. No Flu-Mist spray will be used, said Beilenson, who announced the program yesterday.

The county plans to field 230 employees and volunteers, including police, firefighters and health officials in what will double as an emergency-preparedness exercise.

"We want to bring attention to the fact that flu is a serious issue," Beilenson said, noting that twice as many people die of influenza each year as die from antibiotic-resistant staph infections, which have received extensive publicity lately.

Anyone who misses the free shots but still wants to be immunized at other scheduled county clinics must pay $25, Beilenson said.

The reason the county is willing to foot the $40,000 bill for the free shots, he said, is the hope that they will prevent young children and their parents from transmitting flu germs to more vulnerable older people, who often die of influenza. A state grant will pay up to $7,000.

"Little kids are major [germ] transmitters," Beilenson said. He said the shots are good for children older than 6 months.

Police Chief William McMahon and Fire Chief Joseph Herr said the vaccination event will help first responders practice for a possible avian flu outbreak or an act of biological terrorism.

To cut waiting time, which last year was about 90 minutes, the county has separate vaccination sites for adults and families.

Police will direct traffic around Gateway Drive in the Gateway Business Park, off Route 175, which usually is empty on Sundays. Vehicles with adults will be directed to a parking lot at a building containing eight vaccination stations. Vehicles with families will be directed to another office building lot with 15 vaccination stations.

"We're quite confident we'll have a much smoother trek this year," Beilenson said.

"We heard loud and clear some issues from last year about how long it took to get through the lines," McMahon said.

The county immunized about 2,100 people last year.

Herr said the Fire Department will provide radios, tents if it rains, ambulances and other help as needed.

"We want to make sure we are as prepared as we can be for any disaster. We take what we do every day, get better at it and ramp up in case of an emergency," he said.

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