01/25/06 — Groups join forces to hunt down flu vaccine

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Groups join forces to hunt down flu vaccine

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 25, 2006 2:03 PM

Through the efforts of health officials, 900 doses of the flu vaccine were obtained before Christmas and redistributed as a preventive measure for those who work closely with animals.

While growing concern over avian flu might have prompted the concern, it was more about guarding against any form of influenza, said Dr. Eric Gonder, a veterinarian at Goldsboro Milling Co.

"Our concern was two-fold. The expansion of our program - we have for a number of years provided free influenza vaccines for our employees. The secondary concern was, if somebody is infected with both a human and an animal influenza virus, the easiest way to ward that off is to vaccinate them against the human strain so that they will not be carrying it," he said.

Bothered because his company had already been unable to provide the vaccines last year, Gonder said he had hoped to beef up the supply for this year.

"Everybody keeps saying we should do everything we can to prevent pandemic flu; this is one thing you can do - help avoid the creation of new flu strains," he said.

The decision was easy, Gonder said. Obtaining the vaccine was another matter.

"We didn't realize how far ahead of time you had to order the influenza vaccine," he said. Over the summer, when efforts started, he "found out you're supposed to be ordering in February or March. We were kind of at the end of the supply distribution chain."

Faced with the possibility they would miss out for the second year, Goldsboro Milling contacted the health promotions department at Wayne Memorial Hospital. Donna Edmundson, corporate health coordinator, took it from there.

"In addition to the uncertainty (of when vaccines would be available), there were also some questions about how much of the 900 doses would come in," she said. "We at the hospital started working on how we could get these vaccines administered to their employees."

The wait was arduous, she said.

"When we realized that it did not look promising for this vaccine coming in, they were very concerned about their at-risk population," she said. "With the kind of work that they do with birds - even though this doesn't have anything to do with avian flu - they were concerned about mutations.

"We wanted to offer them help going into this flu season as healthy as possible. (But) it looked pretty dismal."

Josa Raynor-Vaughn, communicable disease program manager with the Health Department, contacted the state immunization office and was instrumental in securing the needed supply.

Mrs. Edmundson signed for the 900 doses and started the distribution process. She and 15 corporate health nurses went on-site the week before Christmas. Several hundred workers were brought in by vans, she said.

"We saw probably about 640 that day (Dec. 21)," she said. "We had translators, were able to administer (vaccines) pretty quickly in a period of about four hours."

Many of Goldsboro Milling's employees work on farms, often long distances away. Mrs. Edmundson said the average drive for the transport vans loaded with workers was 45 minutes to an hour.

A make-up day to give vaccines was set for this month. Doses were also sent to workers in Bertie and Northampton counties, Gonder said.

"We still have approximately 120 doses left. We're trying to assess the need for that," Mrs. Edmundson said.

Gonder said he was pleased with the supportive efforts of the Health Department and the hospital in securing the needed vaccines. The only downside, he said, had been in "trying to get ahold of it."

That will not be the case next year if he can help it.

"We've already placed our order for next year," he said.

Mrs. Edmundson, also a member of the Board of Health, said it was satisfying that the Health Department could be instrumental in finding the vaccines.

"I believe that it certainly was a success story. I feel the customer was very happy with the way things worked out. It was wonderful that they (health officials) could be in this to help meet the needs of the customer," she said.