Health Department hosts smallpox practice exercise

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department is hosting public health agencies from 12 other counties for a smallpox mass vaccination exercise. 

Friday's exercise will help experts practice how to treat smallpox cases.

"A flu shot and a smallpox vaccine shot are two very different things," Rebecca Estes, senior planner of the event, said. 

The exercise is designed to prepare for any worst-case scenarios. This multi-county group regularly participates in tabletop or virtual exercises. However, Friday's event will bring everyone together in person. 

"Getting everyone on the same page and comfortable with one another allows us to operate fluently, if a crisis situation were to happen," Estes said. 

Jason Wilcox is another organizer of the event. He said the department has held point of dispensing, or "POD" events, before. 

"While today's POD is just an exercise, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services and our partners have used PODs in real public health events in the past." 

Wilcox said the department hosted a POD event during a H1N1 or "swine flu" outbreak years ago. Another POD was opened in February of 2017 on the MU's campus to administer mumps vaccinations for students. 

Estes stressed there is no current breakout of smallpox. This is just an exercise to see how the situation should be addressed.

"This will allow mistakes to happen, but as long as we learn from those now and not later, that is the overall goal of the exercise," Estes said.

Participating public health agencies are from the following counties: Callaway, Cole, Boone, Montgomery, Osage, Miller, Audrain, Morgan, Cooper, Howard, Gasconade and Camden.