Healthcare providers to Blanco County residents have begun their preparations for the swine flu pandemic expected this fall, perhaps as soon as this month.
At the Texas Department of State Health Services, Assistant Press Officer Emily Palmer said they expect regular seasonal flu vaccine clinics to begin immunizing people by the end of September, and selected priority groups to start getting swine flu vaccine in mid- October. Timing, she said, depends on when the state receives the doses it has ordered.
Both vaccines should be available through private clinics and hospitals sooner, although swine flu shots still will be prioritized.
There may be good news there: The World Health Organization says flu vaccine production has moved faster than expected, and the seasonal vaccine already is being shipped to the first customers, with swine flu vaccine to begin moving out the door in September...both ahead of schedule.
“My personal guess is that the pandemic will hit early in the fall, perhaps right after school starts,” said Mark Rogers, Director of Care Management for Hill Country Memorial Hospital System in Fredericksburg, and overseer of swine flu planning there.
“Like everybody else, it’s just a guess on my part. There’s no hard data on when to expect a surge of flu patients, but whenever it comes, we’re expecting a rough year,” he added.
That’s why the hospital has started pandemic planning. They already had a general pandemic flu plan on the shelf, and have dusted it off and begun adapting details to the immediate situation. A tabletop drill is being planned to make sure it all works.
Many hospitals plan a separate intake site for people who may have flu, to keep the infectious out of the emergency room and away from vulnerable patients.
“We’re prepared to go to that if necessary,” Rogers explained. “We might convert the community clinic to a flu clinic, with specialized staff and supplies especially for flu cases.”
A national survey by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found 15% of health professionals wouldn’t feel safe working in a flu pandemic, and would stay home.
“I think our people down here have a better work ethic than that,” said Rogers. “But just in case, we’ll be taking steps to limit that effect.”
One step may be converting the wellness center to childcare, so the children of staff members, whether healthy or ill, can be taken care of while the employee remains on the job.
One resource planning to stay on the job is Strickland’s Drugs in Blanco, which delivers to patients in Blanco and Johnson City.
Philip Strickland is part of a coalition in the county to see that bedridden swine flu patients can get essential items, such as prescriptions, without having to leave home.
“We already deliver to customers inside both city limits, and we’ll stand by that commitment, but it could be a problem if the demand rose too far, or for people living out in the county.”
To fill the gap, churches and other groups in Johnson City and Blanco plan to use volunteer runners to make pickups of medicines, groceries, and other essentials on behalf of those too ill to do it themselves. For more information about the volunteer runner program, or to join up, call George Barnette at 713-252-2288.