CATTARAUGUS - Over three hundred Cattaraugus-area residents received their H1N1 immunizations when the Cattaraugus County Department of Health held its second vaccination clinic. The clinic took place at the Cattaraugus Fireman's Club and ran from 1 until 7 p.m. Those taking part declared it a model of efficiency as they moved smoothly from station to station to get their "shots."
Ms Debra Nichols, Cattaraugus County Health Educator, credited much of the ease of operation to Mr. Michael Bechelli, the health department's PHEP (Public Health Emergency Preparedness) coordinator. Bechelli, in turn, praised the volunteer efforts of Chuck Lucas and his CERTs (Citizen's Emergency Response Team), which on this particular day fielded five members to set up equipment, and to meet, greet and register the public.
CERT volunteers, many of them former firemen or emergency medical technicians (EMTs), donate their time and talents to assist in various situations. In fact, the group was formed shortly before the disastrous Gowanda flood and served with distinction during that crisis. These dedicated folks actually travel at their own expense to serve wherever they're needed throughout the county.
Nurses administer the H1N1 immunization to three Cattaraugus locals. The line moved smoothly, thanks to pre-planning and computerized registration.
Bechelli noted that local EMTs from the Cattaraugus Area Ambulance Service were standing by at the clinic, and were also starting the process of learning to administer inoculations in the event of a possible emergency. "Presently," he said, "giving injections is a nurse specific task, but there are potentially times when we would have to vaccinate so many people that we wouldn't have enough nurses to do the job."
To cope with that and other crisis-related situations, a program called Serve New York was born. Actually, it was the 9/11 attack, explained Bechelli, that made the government realize it lacked an organizational body to deal with the huge numbers of volunteers who turned out to help. The Serve New York plan signs up and trains health-care professionals who wish to volunteer in case of future need. Currently, about 75 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, EMTs, veterinarians and dentists throughout the county have signed onto the program.
Coordinator Bechelli pointed to a couple of CERT volunteers manning two of the health department's newly acquired scanners and computers. He explained that this equipment has made registration a breeze, especially if residents remember to bring along their driver's licenses. According to him, the new devices have rendered the cumbersome old "bubble" forms extinct and are an important reason for the program's accelerated pace.
Although the H1N1 virus appears to have waned somewhat in recent weeks, Ms Nichols noted that Cattaraugus County suffered its first flu-related fatality only recently. She added, "Historically, these pandemics go in waves. They build up, taper off, then suddenly return again. We want to have the public ready for the next wave if and when it comes."
Nichols said that the county was preparing for the clinics long before sufficient vaccine became available. That's why, when supplies finally materialized on November 9, the Health Department was able to run its first clinic only two days later on Dec. 11, at Bethany Lutheran Church in Olean. Five hundred people received their H1N1 immunizations that day.
Less than a week later, the Cattaraugus clinic was held, and by seven o'clock that evening, another 313 people had been inoculated, including a number of children who were in the process of getting their recommended second round of the vaccine.
Other clinics will follow in the next three weeks. Nichols said that much of the planning and logistics that allow these operations to follow each other in such close succession, fall to Ms Stephanie Timvlin, yet another PHEP member.
Nichols emphasized that the clinics are free and open to all. Each will run from 1 until 7 p.m. Remember to bring your driver's license.
PHOTO CAPTION 1: LINING UP FOR H1N1: Cattaraugus residents moved quickly from station to station as they arrived at the Firemen's Club for their H1N1 vaccinations.
PHOTO CAPTION 2: WOW! THAT DIDN'T EVEN HURT! Nurses administer the H1N1 immunization to three Cattaraugus locals. The line moved smoothly, thanks to pre-planning and computerized registration.