Hawaii H1N1 preparedness test disburses medicine

Published 7 September 2009

Hawaii tests emergency response to swine flu outbreak; supplies were distributed to more than 40 locations statewide in about seven hours; said incident commander for the exercise: “We consider that a great success”

All Hawaiian islands have received a stockpile of antiviral medicine that will be more than doubled next month in the second phase of an emergency response exercise, says Wes McDermott, Hawaii’s bioterrorism preparedness response chief.

Shipments of simulated medicine were distributed statewide in the first phase of the state Department of Health exercise last week. About 10,000 courses of real medicine to treat flu and other viral infections were sent to the neighbor islands. Star Bulletin’s Helen Altonn writes that the purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate the state’s ability to distribute antiviral medicine and medical supplies during a disaster or emergency.

Supplies were distributed to more than 40 locations statewide in about seven hours, starting at 7 a.m., said McDermott, incident commander for the exercise. “We consider that a great success.”

Not that it was problem-free. “Everything was progressing as planned and we had one unexpected event,” McDermott said. The shipment to Kauai had to be broken into two lots because AirMed Hawaii couldn’t handle the total allotment on one flight, he said.

On the other hand, a Coast Guard plane to the Big Island had excess capacity and could have taken the supplies for both the Big Island and Kauai, he said.

It was a learning point. … We learned that our planning effort was very adequate for the most part. Working with multiple air transport providers adds a little complexity to the situation, but planning ahead of time was very effective, with one exception.”

The state’s current stockpile of about 210,000 courses of antivirals (each course is a week of treatments) includes about 40,000 courses received from the Strategic National Stockpile in May, the department said. An additional 120,000 courses allocated to Hawaii is held by the national stockpile, which is able to deploy certain medications and medical supplies to every state within 12 hours after a governor’s request.

States must ensure they can transport and deliver the medications statewide in event of a pandemic, bioterrorism terrorism attack or natural disaster. “Public health emergencies rarely wait for a convenient time and we see this as an opportunity to test ourselves in challenging circumstances,” state Health Director Chiyome Fukino said. She said an initial supply of antivirals and medical supplies has been positioned in all counties at the start of the flu season to prepare hospitals and clinics to receive supplies in case of an actual emergency.

The real medicine went to district health offices and community health centers. In the second phase of the exercise, McDermott said. “We will distribute actual medicines to hospitals and health centers and they’ll be exercising secondary distribution to satellite clinics and individual clinicians.”

McDermott said the state doesn’t expect to request more antivirals from the national stockpile because manufacturers and commercial suppliers have greatly increased production and distribution of medicine since 1 May. “We are establishing a buffer of that supply by forward-positioning these medications,” he said.