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A Not-So-Dry Run; Flu Shots Used to Test Ann Arbor Preparedness

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-- Bonnie Neal rolled up her sleeve Wednesday morning, turned her head and waited. She wasn t afraid of what was coming, but she wasn t exactly thrilled, either.

Huron Valley Ambulance paramedic Margaret Shedlock swabbed Neal s arm with alcohol and found her mark with the business end of a flu shot.

Neal, a caseworker for the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court, said she never felt a thing. Still, she got a Scooby-Doo sticker for her 5-year-old daughter, who was considerably less sanguine during her shot last week.

Neal, who has had lung surgery, said she s all about prevention when it comes to the flu because, contrary to widespread belief, flu is a respiratory ailment - not just an especially unpleasant upset stomach.

On average nationally, 226,000 people are hospitalized every year because of the flu and 36,000 die -- mostly the elderly.

Flu shots were being offered in ambulances and the county decontamination tent Wednesday and today, as a test of the mass inoculation portion of the county s emergency preparedness plan. Today, the shots are being offered in HVA ambulances and a tent set up at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital s parking lot.

Cindra James, county public health preparedness coordinator, said the agency receives a grant each year for pandemic influenza planning. The county must take at least one additional step annually to prove it can inoculate the entire population.

Last year, the county held a standard flu clinic for all its employees. This year, the flu clinic for county employees and residents moved into a setting where mass vaccinations would actually occur: ambulances and the county s hazardous materials decontamination tent.

James said employees learned an unplanned but valuable lesson Tuesday during a dry run of the clinic. The support poles for the test were snapped by 40-mph winds, and the canvas was blown away.

By Wednesday, the winds had died down, and the tent was up at the clinic at the county s western service center on Zeeb Road near I-94. In addition, the Ann Arbor Police mobile command center was open at the site.

The clinic also was used to test how many people would download information sheets that all patients must fill out. The online version was offered to reduce check-in time. By lunchtime Wednesday, most patients had downloaded the form, and a few drive-up patients who spotted signs for the clinic pulled in.

The clinic is prepared for up to 600 patients over the two days, but additional doses of the vaccine are on hold, should they been needed, James said. No appointments are required.

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