Flu shot clinic was also part of statewide emergency drill

Residents of San Benito County receive free flu vaccinations while unknowingly being a part of medical emergency preparedness drill
Pat Riley said she wants to help county find a more appropriate site for homeless shelter.

As hundreds of San Benito County residents came to Veterans Memorial Building on Thursday to take part in the annual free flu shot clinic, few, if any, realized that they were also taking part in a statewide medical emergency preparedness drill being conducted by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

Erika Vallin, public information officer for the San Benito County Health Department, said the state has been preparing for the drill for months in order to have all the assorted players and pieces running smoothly for the day-long exercise.

“The scenario is that there was an outbreak of strain of influenza that came from Cambodia,” she said. “Someone went to visit family there and came back to a neighboring county. That person returned with other family members who had the virus. People in San Benito County visited the other county’s fair. What ended up happening was those people were infected and as of today two people died here. That’s why we’re putting this plan into action and vaccinating the community as fast as we can.”

In the make-believe world of the scenario, as well as in the real world, the Hollister Fire Department and paramedics were on-scene in case of a real emergency. Volunteers included nursing students from Gavilan College.

“We are providing flu shots and mist to the residents of San Benito County as part of the exercise, so we can see our procedures in action and to find out what works and what doesn’t,” Vallin said.

She said the planning team has been working on the free flu clinic for several months. The Emergency Preparedness Program coordinates the Office of Emergency Preparedness for the county and volunteers.

“We have people from the Department of Health and Human Services to input all the data from the shots,” Vallin said. “It’s a partnership with different players in the community to pull this off every year.”

The exercise, using residents who are getting free flu shots, gives the CDPH a real-world view of how effective they can be to vaccinate as many people as possible in the shortest time possible.

“Today we have a total of 1,502 shots available, including the flu mist,” Vallin said. “Last year we did close to 1,200 vaccinations and flu mists. We opened free to the community and pretty much anyone can walk through the doors and we happily give them a free flu shot. It’s Thursday, so a lot of the schools are out early, so there are quite a few children here today.”

While the drill happened state-wide, not all counties were giving free flu vaccinations.

“Everyone was given the exact same scenario about the outbreak,” Vallin said. “The only difference for us is that we’re actually doing the vaccinations. Most other counties are just doing the drill. In our county, we love our community and we want them to be safe especially during this flu season, so we are giving out the vaccinations.”

Vallin said she wasn’t surprised at the public response as people passed through the lines and sat at the numerous tables to get their shots from the volunteer nursing students.

“We’ve done this for years and it’s always a great turnout and we’re always happy to help the community,” she said.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years' experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]