Local Health Department Engages in Pharmacy Preparedness Exercise

By Mary Wakefield, Intern, Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness, and Catastrophic Response, NACCHO

pharma_costcoFor most people, visiting a Costco Warehouse means getting a great deal, but soon enough it could also mean receiving medical countermeasures in an emergency.

On June 4th, 2015, the Costco Warehouse in Prince William County, VA, pilot tested a new program to dispense medical countermeasures to the public. The program is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiative, developed in conjunction with the Prince William Health District. In an area home to 500,000 people, there are already 15 public points of dispensing; Costco hopes to swell that number and provide a large, easy to access and use space.

The pilot test was conducted during business hours, with volunteers moving through the Greeting, Screening, and Dispensing processes in a cordoned-off area. Players were met at the entrance and guided through to pick up screening forms. These forms were reviewed by pharmacy staff and medications were assigned based on known allergies.

Using a Head of Household model, wherein one person may pick up medications for their family, friends, and neighbors, organizers examined how quickly, safely, and accurately medications were dispensed.

Currently, the exercise scenario is limited to an aerosolized anthrax release, but other biological agents and scenarios will be added over time as the program expands.

Organizer Patrick Ashley, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for  the Prince William Heath District, noted that there are currently 49 big box retailers in Prince William County that could act as points of dispensing during a biological event. Their participation would drastically increase access and availability of medications or vaccines during a biological event such as pandemic influenza, emerging infectious disease outbreaks, or biological weapons releases.

Ashley applauded Costco leadership for their willingness to participate in the project. Even with an aggressive timeline and a large, complicated exercise to design and carry out, Costco leadership engaged in operations and saw the value of the program.

The next steps for the project include conducting another pilot exercise in Chicago and gathering and reviewing feedback. The success of this pilot exercise will hopefully aid in creation of partnerships with other big box retailers, both locally and across the nation.

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