Vaccination clinic today serves as emergency preparedness exercise
WILLMAR –– A county-wide vaccination clinic that takes place this afternoon in Willmar will not only help 7-12 grade students meet new immunization requirements that go into effect this fall, the event will also help local officials fine-tune their emergency response plan to a potential medical outbreak in the future.
The dual-role event will help families by providing free immunizations, and it will provide practice and preparation for public health officials that could help the entire community be equipped for a widespread disaster, said Ann Stehn, director of the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Department.
Part of that training comes from the process of setting up a large-scale immunization clinic at an off-site location and planning for signage, computerized records, staffing and equipping stations for shots to be given and processing every person who walks through the door.
It’s the kind of activity that health professions may have to pull together in short order if there is a true medical emergency that requires mass dispensation of medicine.
The public health agency “needs to be ready for different types of things that could happen,” said Stehn, including being able to effectively execute a “mass event in a very short time frame.”
The county has held emergency drills before to prepare for an outbreak and they’ve had a few large-scale immunization clinics in the past.
This is the first time the two projects have been combined, said Stehn, adding that the event is being accomplished in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health and Office of Emergency Preparedness.
There will be a total 70 staff on hand to work the event, which includes community partner volunteers from within and outside of Kandiyohi County.
Today’s event will be held from 3-6 p.m. at the Willmar Senior High School cafeteria.
Three vaccines will be offered that are specifically targeted for students in grades 7 to 12 and reflect changes in school vaccine requirements and recommendations that take effect this fall.
Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Tdap) and Meningococcal vaccines — which are both required — will be provided.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which is not required but highly recommended by the public health department, will also be available.
Starting in September, students in grades 7 to 12 must have the TDaP and meningococcal vaccines. Students in grades 8 to 12 must provide documentation if schools request it.
In the past a meningococcal vaccine had been only recommended before kids went to college. Now it’s required for seventh graders.
Also in the past, some students may have only received a tetanus and diphtheria combo vaccine but because of increased cases of whooping cough and concern about “waning” immunity, the pertussis vaccine has been incorporated and is now a required.
These two changes in the vaccine routine are on top of the traditional immunizations students are already required to have.
As part of a nationwide educational effort about the role sexual activity plays in cervical cancer, the clinic is also offering the HPV vaccine. Stehn said it’s recommended that males and females receive the vaccine at an early age when their immune system is best able to benefit from the vaccine, and before any sexual activity begins.
“It’s a cancer prevention vaccine,” said Stehn.
It’s not known how many students will show up for the three-hour clinic — which Stehn said is also part of the learning experience, but they predicted the number of doses they’d need by taking a percentage of county students that are currently not up to date with these particular vaccines.
The county has been working with school districts in the county to get the word out, including through email notifications.
The immunizations are free, regardless of insurance status, which Stehn said is a “substantial” savings offered at this one-time clinic.
Parental permission forms are required however.
Staff at the clinic will have access to computerized immunization records of students, said Stehn.
They’re hoping for a good turnout, but Stehn said even if there isn’t, the experience of setting up a community clinic is an important process that will provide valuable lessons.