October 5 , 2009
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” This quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery may sum up the constantly changing recommendations from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the resulting uncertainty of what our local towns are to do regarding the H1N1 influenza virus (the so called swine flu). However, as testimony to the pragmatism, common sense and Yankee ingenuity found in our seven towns, our towns’ fire, police, EMTs, boards of health, councils on aging and the school district are trying to piece an effective plan together to ensure that the goal of vaccinating as many of our residents as possible for H1N1 will be more than a wish.
Although district staff and elected/appointed officials from several towns have been working on various emergency responses to disasters for some time, the now pressing need to develop an effective vaccination plan is providing a new perspective on this work. With assistance from the coordinators of both the Hampden County and Hampshire County preparedness councils, Westfield’s emergency management director and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the district and member towns are fleshing out an appropriate response to this challenge. We’re told that our plan of working across towns and counties, pooling our resources to meet residents’ needs, and cooperatively working together as towns and the school district, is a model that should be used in much of rural Massachusetts.
While the plan is not complete and many details remain to be worked out, I want to thank everyone involved for their efforts in moving forward a means to ensure that our residents get vaccinated in a safe, secure and calm environment. It appears at this time that the normal priority lists for swine flu vaccinations is vastly different than before. After health care workers and medically compromised individuals are vaccinated, the recommendations are to use the next available vaccine allotments to vaccinate young people (ages 2 to 24), then concentrate on people ages 25 to 64 and lastly vaccinate individuals 65 and over (a group that is still advised to get their seasonal flu vaccine). Vaccine production is being ramped up and it is anticipated that everyone wanting a vaccination will be able to get it; the problem is that this will take some time and require staged vaccination clinics (i.e., children first, then the 25-64 group and finally the 65 and over group). It is also anticipated that due to the wide dispersal of the flu vaccine and the number of people getting vaccinated, our towns will not be looking at the usual small number of people at clinics, but rather much larger numbers that may be difficult to handle on a town by town basis. As the vaccine and related equipment is being furnished by the government, as well as additional funds for planning and carrying out vaccination programs, this may require some different ways to run clinics—much more like the Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) model than the traditional flu vaccination clinic.
Town and district officials will continue to work out the details such as locations, timing and staffing of our clinic, and there will be various ways that this information will be shared with our residents. As many of you know, the timing of completing this planning and implementing vaccinations is very tight as we’re approaching the traditional season for the flu to impact many people. I’m positive that we’ll be able to effectively provide the most appropriate methods of meeting the vaccination needs of our towns and demonstrate once again the positives of working together as a seven-town district to address large and complex problems.