Bakersfield College: Free Flu Shots Help BC Practice for Community Response

Amber Chiang
Member Spotlight

On October 24, 2008, volunteers gathered at Bakersfield College to test their ability to vaccinate the community in a point-of-dispensing exercise. The college entered into the partnership because if Bakersfield was ever to experience pandemic influenza or another such disaster, it might be necessary to distribute medications to many citizens quickly, and Bakersfield College would be called on to provide the service.

Bakersfield College operated the entire event in an incident command system structure, which aligned all services and volunteers under one command structure. Calling on the National Incident Management System guidelines for overseeing an emergency operation, all members of the volunteer corps, from those directing traffic to those dispensing vaccinations, reported up the chain of command to the incident commander.

To plan for the event, meetings between partnering agencies began in early August, about three months before the exercise. Experience with this type of drill among the planning team ranged from active and ongoing to new and unfamiliar. Those with experience cautioned that no drill in the county had ever delivered more than 800 doses in a three hour exercise. However, as the day progressed, it was apparent that the group would need to activate a planned reserve of an additional 800 vaccines.

Mildred Lovato, vice president of student services at Bakersfield College and incident commander for this exercise, explained, "Not only did we give the call to begin the vaccinations ahead of schedule, but we had to call for additional vaccine to meet the increasing demand."

Bakersfield College's student nurses administered the shots to individuals in vehicles, a process which mimics the actual vaccination progression during an emergency. The entire process was closely monitored by local nurses and physicians, as well as county public health staff, to ensure the utmost adherence to safety and established procedures was maintained.

The event was made possible by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Emergency Preparedness obtained by Smith Pineo from the County of Kern Department of Public Health. Pineo also served as the agency representative between Bakersfield College and the public services which assisted in providing vaccinations, volunteers, supplies, and expertise.

"I'm incredibly impressed with what has happened during the Bakersfield College point-of-dispensing exercise," said Pineo. 'The organization and participation of the college, from student nurses and EMTs, to faculty and volunteers, has been an amazing partnership."

From above, the point-of-dispensing exercise looked clear and organized. Two lanes of traffic entered the area from the east and funneled into three lanes of cars which were staged into one of five vaccination lines. As cars entered the exercise field, the flu shot clients were greeted by screeners who provided forms on chip boards, pieces of cardboard sturdy enough to write on, that needed to be completed before arriving at a vaccination unit.

Screeners at each of the vaccination units would determine if the driver of the vehicle had to be observed for 15 minutes as a first-time recipient of a flu shot. If observation was not necessary, the car was directed to the exit driveways.

As the day progressed and the line of traffic backing up on city streets grew, IC Lovato worked with the planning/intel chief and the vaccination group supervisor to open two additional vaccination lanes for a total of seven. While the movement alleviated some of the strain of traffic on the city roads, it added to the wait at key areas such as screening and observation.

Those planning the event were overwhelmingly pleased with the event's structure and safety, as well as the number of vaccinations provided in the community. The volunteer support and adherence to IC guidelines kept cars moving through the exercise area quickly.

Collaborating agencies were Bakersfield College, Kern County Department of Public Health, Kern Medical Reserve Corps, Bakersfield Fire Department, Kern Medical Center, local community emergency response teams, Hall Ambulance, and the Bakersfield Police Department. The event was sponsored by Pepsi, the Bakersfield College Foundation, and Walker-Lewis Rents.