DOVER — It was as easy as pulling up to a drive-thru window at a fast-food restaurant and getting a bagful of food, only this was better for people’s health.
The Division of Public Health, in partnership with Bayhealth, conducted Kent County’s first drive-thru flu clinic and provided free influenza vaccinations in the parking lot of the Blue Hen Corporate Center on Thursday.
Gov. Jack Markell, DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay and Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf all spoke and received their flu shots at Thursday’s event.
“Getting your annual vaccination is easy and it’s the single most important step every Delawarean should take right now to be prepared for cold and flu season,” Gov. Markell said. “The evidence is clear that the benefits received from the flu shot saves lives, especially among our vulnerable residents, protects our workforce and reduces costs across our healthcare system.”
The drive-thru clinic was about as convenient as it could possibly get for people looking to get a flu shot.
“It’s very simple,” said Leigh Bontrager, a Registered Nurse from Bayhealth in Milford. “You just pull up to the station, put your car in park, put your window down, roll up your sleeve and a you get a little prick in your arm and you’re good to go.”
Well, there was also a little bit of paperwork to fill out, but for the most part, it was hassle-free.
Wayne Smith, the deputy county health administrator for the Division of Public Health in Kent and Sussex counties, said the drive-thru clinic was modeled after one that is conducted by Peninsula General Medical Center, which hosts one at Shorebird Stadium in Salisbury, Md.
Mr. Smith noted there were 2,064 confirmed flu cases in Delaware last year, six of which were fatal.
That is why getting a flu shot is so important, he said.
“There are myths out there and some people feel they don’t need them, but the science shows that the more people that are vaccinated, the less contagious and the healthier a community we live in,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s always that ‘It won’t be me,’ situation, but the reality is it can affect anybody, and especially youths and seniors.”
George Biles, a Milford resident, was quick to roll up his sleeve on Thursday.
“I was just driving down the street and saw the sign that said ‘Free flu shots,’ so I pulled in because I needed one,” he said. “I try to get one every year, but it hasn’t been every year consecutively.”
The flu clinic, which provided vaccinations to anyone 13 and older, also served as a preparedness exercise, enabling DPH staff to practice their readiness in the event of a large-scale health emergency and tested their ability to accommodate all people, including those with access and functional needs.
Bilingual and sign interpreters were on hand and special lanes were marked off for those with functional needs.
While it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against the flu, Nurse Bontrager said she still recommends getting the shot.
“Flu is not a fun thing. Most people don’t experience it,” she said. “Those that do, it can be life-threatening, especially for the elderly and the young children.
“A lot of middle-aged people feel like they don’t need a vaccination so much, but it’s more protecting other people. It’s good to protect yourself, too, but it’s also about keeping other people healthy and safe.”
First confirmed flu case
A 27-year-old Kent County man, who was not hospitalized, was the state’s first laboratory-confirmed case of influenza for the 2016-’17 flu season, according to Delaware’s Division of Public Health.
DPH made the announcement during the drive-thru flu clinic outside of the Blue Hen Corporate Center.
There are two types of the flu virus – types A and B – that routinely spread in people and are responsible for seasonal flu outbreaks each year. Delaware’s first case is an influenza A strain.
Secretary Landgraf said the first flu case of the year should send a signal that now is the time for the public to get vaccinated.
“The flu is easy to transmit and you can get it from healthy, but unvaccinated, children and adults,” she said. “With the announcement of the first confirmed case of the season, we want to remind Delawareans that they need the protection that an annual flu shot provides.
“Getting vaccinated can reduce the severity of flu illness and prevent visits to the doctor, clinic, or emergency room or missing important family, school, and work events.”
Who needs to get flu shots and where can they get them?
DPH officials said that all Delawareans six-months-old and older need to get flu vaccinations soon if they have yet to do so.
Dr. Rattay said that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions should get their flu shots early, preferably by the end of October.
“Vaccination is about not only protecting yourself, but also protecting each other,” Dr. Rattay said. “If you’re not in a high-risk group, you likely live or interact with those who are, such as young children, older adults, or those with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems.”
Dr. Rattay said the most vulnerable population includes: Seniors; pregnant women and their household contacts; caregivers and household contacts of children younger than six months, since they are too young to receive the vaccine; those with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems; food service providers and health care providers.
The flu vaccine is readily available through medical providers, pharmacies and some grocery stores. DPH is also hosting public flu clinics throughout the state.
“In Delaware, there are ample opportunities to receive the flu vaccine,” said Bonnie Perratto, Bayhealth’s Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse. “From physician offices, to pharmacies, even the grocery store.
“But some people are still in need. And events [like Thursday’s drive-thru clinic] help bridge the gap so we can protect as many Delawareans as possible from the flu.”
Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at email@example.com.