A “Swine Flu Summit” was held in Columbia earlier this week with state and local health officials, community leaders, university representatives, members of various school districts as well as faith-based groups gathering to get an update on efforts to thwart the H1N1 virus in South Carolina.
A similar summit was held in 2006 upon receipt of support from the federal government for pandemic planning. In 2007, South Carolina officials held a pandemic exercise to practice what would need to be done and tested.
Phyllis Beasley, who is DHEC’s State Pandemic Influenza Response Coordinator explains, “We’ve been doing this for awhile so hopefully folks had some basic pandemic plans in place. And we have done some exercises, some tabletop exercises, at a state level. We did a “state level” pandemic exercise in 2007 that was school based.”
So has anything changed now that the plan is actually being put in place? “Before, our planning efforts were to plan for the worse case scenario which would have been similar to the 1918 pandemic,” said Beasley. “It’s good that the pandemic we did have was not of that level, but it brought along planning issues that we had not addressed as vigorously as we had for the severe pandemic.
“We’re having to step back and take a look at some issues. Plus, now we actually have more information on the virus itself and a vaccine that will be available. So, we have to implement those plans.”
Reports say there have been shortages in the amount of the regular seasonal flu vaccine. However, shipments are expected to increase as the month goes on and as more vaccination clinics become available.
Beasley feels that there is probably a higher demand than usual for the seasonal vaccine due to the fact that there is more awareness because of the information DHEC is putting out about H1N1 and influenza in general.
“Eventually it will be available for any South Carolinian who will want it,” she states. “The problem that we’re running into right now is that the vaccine orders are trickling in. We don’t get it all at once, so we’re focusing on the best way to get the vaccine to the target groups.”
There are 5 initial target groups, not necessarily in this order: Pregnant women; people who live with or care for children less than 6 months of age (parents or siblings or day care providers); health care providers and emergency services personnel; children and young adults ages 6 month to 24 years; and persons ages 25 to 64 years who have health conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related medical complications. These are the priority groups that should first be vaccinated for the flu.