Drive-thru flu shot clinic helps Del. prep for larger public health crises

Hundreds got their flu vaccine at a mobile clinic in Dover but the clinic had another purpose: preparing the state for a bigger health emergency like an anthrax attack.

Hundreds of people, including Delaware Gov. John Carney, got their flu vaccine during a drive-thru clinic in Dover on Tuesday. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Hundreds of people, including Delaware Gov. John Carney, got their flu vaccine during a drive-thru clinic in Dover on Tuesday. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Within the first three hours of opening early Tuesday morning, Delaware Division of Public Health employees administered more than 450 doses of flu vaccine at a drive-thru clinic in Dover. Cars were still lined up around midday to fill out their paperwork and get their free vaccine. By noon, 615 vaccines had been given.

People only had to stick an arm out the car window to get immunized. 

The in-and-out flu shots arrived just as Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of Delaware’s public health division — announced the state’s first lab-confirmed flu case of the season. 

“It’s a little bit early, and a really important reminder that now is the time to get your flu vaccine,” Rattay said. “It takes at least two weeks before your immune system protects you from influenza after you get the vaccine.”

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The clinic was held in the large parking lot outside the Delaware Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Dover. Vehicles moved through several stations, almost like an assembly line, filling out paperwork and getting health information along the way. A large tent at the end of the line protected the tables where needles and doses of the flu vaccine were held.

As they administered vaccines, health workers and volunteers also had the chance to practice how they’d respond to a much bigger public health threat. 

This mobile clinic is very similar to what the state would use to inoculate residents or distribute medication in the face of an anthrax attack or some new type of influenza that regular vaccines don’t cover.

“It’s important that we are regularly exercising as a state how we come together…whether it’s just to dispense medication or a vaccine quickly to a lot of people,” Rattay said. “Not only do we love the fact that we get [the] flu vaccine out there in the community, but this is really important for us to practice and learn from days like this.”

The state holds regular discussions about how to respond to a mass health crisis, but putting those talks into practice provides an extra layer of confidence to that response plan. 

“Every time you exercise in real life, you learn so much more,” she said. “We want to make sure that everyone’s had the experience of participating in an exercise like this so we’re all prepared if and when a real critical response were needed.”

After the clinic, health officials will evaluate their procedures and make corrections to things that didn’t work as well on the ground as they did on paper.

During the 2018-2019 flu season, Delaware saw 6,387 lab-confirmed flu cases. More than 1,000 people were hospitalized and 24 people died from flu complications.

Rattay said it’s not clear how strong the upcoming flu season will be, but the past few years have been rough. 

“Coming off the heels of that, it’s at least going to be average, if not a little worse,” Rattay said. “So again, it’s really, really important for people to get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.”

The state will host more free flu clinics throughout the state in the weeks and months to come. A schedule of clinics can be found on the state’s flu website.

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