Rachel Hemrichsen, a senior nursing student at Cedarville University, prepares to administer a flu vaccine for Union County Commissioner Chris Schmenk at the health department’s drive-thru flu shot clinic. The clinic serves as an opportunity for UCHD staff to prepare for mass distribution of vaccines, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Kayleen Petrovia)
The Union County Health Department’s drive-thru flu shot clinic is doing more than just vaccinating community members.
The event allows public health officials and staff to prepare to distribute vaccinations on a mass scale, including making plans for the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s a really good, hands-on training exercise,” said Public Information Officer Jennifer Thrush.
Even before the inception of UCHD’s drive-thru flu shot clinic nearly a decade ago, the health department has been preparing for a scenario like the one faced by the world today.
Thrush said about two years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, public health departments throughout the U.S. were charged with creating plans for an infectious disease outbreak.
Since then, she said UCHD has hosted a drive-thru flu shot clinic nearly every year in preparation for such an event.
This year, Thrush said nearly 400 community members registered for Friday’s event. UCHD nurses, Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and university nursing students administered shots at the clinic.
Through the clinic, residents drive into the rabbit barn at the Union County Fairgrounds and receive a vaccine. Thrush said they are usually in and out within about 15 minutes.
Thrush compared the drive-thru clinics to water rescue trainings that fire departments participate in.
Although firefighters may not actually encounter a water rescue, she said it’s important to know how to handle one.
Likewise, Thrush said the drive-thru clinics allow each member of the health department’s team – whether they are nurses or administrative employees – to see what role they’d play in a mass vaccination scenario.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said “there’s more of that real world aspect” to the health department’s training, as opposed to just a theoretical plan.
She said the manner the flu-shot clinic is carried out will likely be similar to the way a COVID-19 vaccine would be distributed.
Thrush emphasized that one of the “tenets” of vaccine clinic planning is preparing for a contagious, respiratory illness.
While working to craft the most effective flu shot clinic, she said UCHD staff considers how to get vaccines against a contagious virus to community members while reducing the risk of infection for staff and participants.
“That’s in the nature of it,” Thrush said.
For that reason, she said the flu shot clinic “ties directly” to COVID-19 vaccine preparedness.
Following the clinic, Thrush said UCHD staff will evaluate the strengths of the clinic and areas for improvement that would inform any COVID-19 vaccine clinic they host.
Aside from preparation, she said the event emphasizes the importance of vaccines in fighting illness – whether caused by the flu virus or coronavirus.
Even if the focus has been on COVID-19, Thrush said it is now more important than ever to get a flu shot.
“We still don’t know what the flu will bring,” she said, adding that the effects could be amplified by the coronavirus.
Thrush noted that many of the precautions taken during the pandemic have been aimed at preventing a burden on the healthcare system.
If this year’s flu season results in a high number of hospitalizations, it could result in issues caring for those sick from either virus.
Thrush emphasized that vaccines are “safe and effective.” She said flu shots have “been around for a long time” and there is a history of effectiveness that illustrates its safety.
She said data shows that communities with a high population of vaccinated individuals experience less disease.
Although they aren’t 100% effective in preventing disease, she said “they are the best tool we have.”
In years when the vaccine is less effective against the most prominent flu strains, she said it is especially important that everyone gets vaccinated. Thrush said more vaccines mean “protection within the community for all populations.”
Those who have questions about getting vaccinated should talk to their healthcare providers and ask them questions, Thrush said.
“We don’t dismiss fears, we don’t dismiss concerns,” she added.