About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Your assignment: Distribute preventive medicine to everyone in the region within 36 hours

Long lines formed at vaccination sites like North Stafford High School, above, when H1N1 shots were offered in 2009.

Emily Smith has spent the last several months plotting the Health Department’s reaction to two ugly scenarios:

* The arrival of a new flu virus for which the public has no immunity.

* A terror attack involving a biologic agent such as anthrax.

Smith is the emergency planner for the Rappahannock Area Health District. This week she discussed the Health Department’s response plans with two dozen officials, representing local governments, schools, emergency services and nonprofits.

Smith and her boss, Dr. Brooke Rossheim, district director, told the group that if something bad happens and preventive medicines are recommended, they would need the group’s help in distributing them to the public within 36 hours. They also said that this is how the distribution might work:

* First, notify the public that medicines are on their way.

* Establish up to seven distribution sites. Each locality in the region would host a site. Because of their size, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties might have two.

* Use local schools. The distributions could occur in the cafeterias, or outside in the parking lots.

* Expect up to 330,000 people, or everyone in the region, if a new flu virus is involved and vaccinations are offered.

* Invite only heads of households, or 110,000 people, if a biologic attack is involved and antibiotics are offered. The heads of households would receive enough medicine for everyone in the family.

* Obtain the medicine from the national stockpile maintained by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC would send the medicine to the Virginia Department of Health, which would transfer it to localities.

These plans are reminiscent of what actually happened in 2009 when H1N1, a new flu virus, appeared. Local schools were hastily converted to vaccination sites, and more than 23,000 children received shots. That experience was “very helpful in our planning and in our meetings this year,” Smith said.