First Responder Point-of-Distribution Drill, October 2017. Photo by Public Health Department.
First Responder Point-of-Distribution Drill, October 2017. Photo by Public Health Department.

Preparing for a Local Pandemic

Author: Public Health Department
Date: Thursday, October 19, 2017 10:09 AM

What if a highly contagious disease like the pandemic flu swept toward SLO County? The County team and local jurisdictions would be ready to respond quickly to deliver mass vaccinations—thanks in part to drills like the recent First Responder Point-of-Distribution Drill.


Flu shots and pandemic preparedness went hand-in-hand at the drill on October 18, when more than 1,000 vaccines were given in three hours across SLO County. The drill is a collaboration of the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) team and local jurisdictions: the Five Cities Fire Authority, City of Grover Beach, City of Morro Bay, City of Paso Robles, and City of San Luis Obispo.

The exercise provides flu shots to first responders plus County and city employees (who are all disaster service workers by statute) while serving as a mass vaccination drill that keeps teams sharp and ready to respond to the threat of pandemic illness.

"It's a win-win," said Elizabeth Merson, program manager for PHEP. "Realistic drills like this are the best way to prepare for a mass health emergency like pandemic flu. As a bonus, our first responders are protected for this year's real-life flu season. The flu shot vastly reduces their chances of getting sick and helps limit the spread of the virus in our area."

The drill offers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes efforts of the PHEP team, which works daily to ensure that our local first responders and health care system are prepared to respond to public health emergencies—from a disease outbreak to a natural disaster or act of terrorism—in an effective and coordinated manner. 

Vaccines were administered by Public Health Department nurses, Cuesta College nursing students, and volunteers from the SLO Medical Reserve Corps, a group of trained volunteers convened by PHEP to assist public health efforts during times of special need or disaster.

While the PHEP team focuses on preparing for a health emergency, every individual can play a role in keeping SLO County healthy this flu season. By getting the flu shot, you can:

  • Protect yourself. The flu shot reduces your chances of getting sick from the influenza virus. While the degree varies by year, it always offers an important degree of protection.
  • Protect your family, friends, co-workers and community. By reducing your own risk, you also reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others—including people vulnerable to serious complications. Multiplied across the region, this effect can be profound.
  • Protect the local workforce. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates flu causes U.S. workers to miss up to 111 million workdays per year. Preventing flu helps reduce the burden of illness on the local economy.

You can get the flu shot in SLO County from your regular healthcare provider, many local pharmacies or Public Health Department clinics, by appointment. 

The flu shot is recommended for everyone over six months of age. It's especially important for people over the age of 65 or under age five and people who have health problems such as asthma, heart disease, lung disease or diabetes. The vaccine is updated each year to better match the viruses in circulation. This year, the recommended version is a flu shot, not a nasal spray. CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, or as soon as possible after that. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop that protect against flu virus infection.

Find locations that offer the flu shot at VaccineFinder.org. More information about the flu and flu vaccine is available at www.cdc.gov/flu.