Using technology originally developed for mass disasters, Boston disease trackers are embarking on a novel experiment - one of the first in the country - aimed at eventually creating a citywide registry of everyone who has had a flu vaccination.
The resulting vaccination map would allow swift intervention in neighborhoods left vulnerable to the fast-moving respiratory illness.
The trial starts this afternoon, when several hundred people are expected to queue up for immunizations at the headquarters of the Boston Public Health Commission. Each of them will get a bracelet printed with a unique identifier code. Information about the vaccine's recipients, and the shot, will be entered into handheld devices similar to those used by delivery truck drivers.
Infectious disease specialists in Boston and elsewhere predicted that the registry approach could prove even more useful if something more sinister strikes: a bioterrorism attack or the long-feared arrival of a global flu epidemic. In such crises, the registry could be used to track who received a special vaccine or antidote to a deadly germ.
"Anything you can do to better pinpoint who's vaccinated and who's not, that's absolutely vital," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota. "I wish more cities were doing this kind of thing."
Boston is believed to be the first city to embrace this particular approach to tracking vaccinations against the seasonal flu, estimated to kill 36,000 people each year in the United States, principally the elderly.
But when Boston bought the monitoring system from a Milwaukee company in 2006, emergency authorities had a far different use in mind: tracking people injured in big fires, plane crashes, or other disasters.
"When there's a large catastrophic event, people end up in a variety of healthcare facilities," said Dr. Anita Barry, Boston's director of communicable disease control. "Of course, their family members and loved ones are trying to find out where they are and how they're doing."
To see how well the system would work, emergency crews tested it at the Boston Marathon and the Fourth of July extravaganza on the Esplanade. The trial proved successful.
"If we can make it work in the Boston Marathon medical tent, then you have to think about making it so that it can work in other environments as well - whether it's a community clinic or a doctor's office or a flu shot clinic," said Rich Serino, chief of Boston Emergency Medical Services. Thus, the idea to use the registry as a flu vaccine tracker was born.
Every autumn in medical offices across the country, flu vaccine floods in. The perishable medical product must be delivered to millions in a matter of months.Continued.. (Boston, 11.21.2008 By Stephen Smith) http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008/11/21/boston_launches_flu_shot_tracking