SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – This year’s influenza (flu) season will be significantly more challenging with the combination of COVID-19. Although Oahu is finally seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, there is a concern the flu season will complicate the treatment of ill patients who may have similar symptoms.
Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic has been preparing since May for the flu season, specifically on making sure families understand the importance of getting their annual flu shot.
“Traditionally, we like to set up a large family event where parents and kids can come to our clinic on a Saturday or during the week when school is out,” said Dr. Robert Neufeldt, chief of the DDHC Primary Care Clinic. “This gives us an opportunity to vaccinate a large number of people in our community at one time.”
“Integrating measures that protect staff and patients from COVID exposure is paramount in supporting USARHAW [U.S. Army Hawaii] and the State of Hawaii’s efforts in stopping COVID,” Neufeldt added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu activity in the United States typically begins in the October to November timeframe and peaks between the months of December to February. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, whereas COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV02. Many symptoms of the two are similar and will cause additional testing, since symptoms alone won’t be able to identify which illness a person might have.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headache and fatigue. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months of age and older, including pregnant patients.
Drive-thru Flu Shots Available at DDHC
To ensure the maximum safety of beneficiaries and the DDHC staff during the ongoing pandemic, DDHC will be conducting flu vaccines in a drive-thru setting.
“I have been a part of flu drives for over 10 years; this will be the first time I have ever initiated one as a drive-thru, where the majority of our patients remain in their vehicles to receive their vaccine,” said Jason Martin, population health nurse at the DDHC Primary Care Clinic. “It’s a unique challenge, but one we have trained for extensively, and we believe it will be well-received by the community.”
The drive-thru setup is centered on safety, social distancing, and maximizing the number of patients vaccinated. Organizers said there will be adult and pediatric lanes in the drive-thru. Vehicles in which all passengers are age nine and older will be directed to the adult lane; vehicles will drive into a warehouse where staff will administer the vaccine while patients remain in their cars.
“Having our flu-drive at this site will help our staff and community prepare and successfully execute any unexpected emergent mass vaccination event, so in the event we get a COVID-19 vaccine, how we are administering the flu shot this year would be very similar to how we would administer a COVID vaccine,” Neufeldt said.
Vehicles with at least one child under nine will be directed to the pediatric lane. Once there, patients will get out of the vehicle and head to a social distancing area, where staff members will safely administer vaccines. Families will be able to receive the flu vaccine together in the pediatric lane.
“Nine is the age we can safely administer a vaccine in their vehicle; however, there may be exceptions to this rule, which will be looked at on a case to case basis and we will be able to address those as families come through,” said Martin.
“The flu drive will take place at the Wheeler Gulch Multiple Deployment Facility (MDF) Warehouse which is an excellent location for a drive-thru flu drive due to its large open space with zero chance of backing traffic up onto busy roads or past gates," said Lt. Col. Andy Torres, a nurse practitioner and chief nurse officer at the DDHC Primacy Care Clinic.
Because of the pandemic, DDHC is planning for increased interest in this year’s flu-drive, organizers said.
“We have had six months of advance planning, we have successfully completed our staff competency training and conducted several small ‘dry-runs’ in order to prepare for this event,” said Torres.
The flu drive is scheduled for Nov. 18-20 from 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m., and Nov. 21 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Wheeler Gulch MDF Warehouse.
- Masks are required.
- Please wear a short sleeve shirt. Children under six years old should wear shorts.
- All non-active duty, TRICARE eligible beneficiaries including family members and retirees, regardless of branch of service or military treatment facility they are enrolled at, are welcome.
- Text the word “FLU” to 31996 for directions, hours of operation, and updates.