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Public urged to get flu shot

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2020 3:54:29 PM
Modified: 10/12/2020 3:54:17 PM

LEBANON — Now is the best time to get a flu shot, a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center epidemiologist told participants in a virtual community conversation last week about the importance of such vaccinations as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

Influenza activity often begins to increase in October, peaking between December and February. Because it takes about two weeks following a flu shot to develop immunity, people who wait too long to get their shots may risk getting sicker than they would if they had gotten them earlier, said Dr. Jose Mercado, a hospital epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“It’s really about protecting yourselves and others, (and) avoiding overburdening the health care system,” Mercado said during Wednesday’s virtual event held by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Partners for Community Wellness, a group of advisors, advocates and philanthropists focused on community health in the D-H service area.

Flu clinics, including those held at DHMC, look different this year than in years past, said Mary Evanofski, D-H’s vice president of operations and population health.

In 2019, DHMC gave out a total of 31,500 vaccines during flu clinics, as well as at the hospital, other D-H practices and public flu clinics. This year, hospital officials are hoping to give 20% more shots, she said.To do so while avoiding having people wait in line to get their shots, the hospital requires that people sign up in advance and drive up in their cars. They are screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms and asking those who have ever had an adverse reaction to a flu shot get inoculated instead in their doctor’s office.

Because a drive-through model takes more time, the hospital is conducting 15 clinics this year, compared with two in years past, requiring more staff to run them, Evanofski said. In past years, the hospital’s two clinics required about 22 nurses each. But, this year, each clinic requires 35 people.

Due to the added cost for staff time, the hospital is asking people to provide insurance information when they sign up, something they have foregone in the past for efficiency’s sake.

Despite that, however, Evanofski said, “our intention is for no patient to pay for the vaccine.”

D-H plans to cover the cost for those without insurance, she said. This is especially important in the Upper Valley because there is “no other avenue for a free flu shot,” she said. There are some free clinics elsewhere in the state, she said.

One of the benefits of having more people involved in the drive-through flu clinics is that they all will be prepared to help distribute a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, which Marcado said he expected would be sometime in the middle of next year.

“I’m confident now that we also have workforce that can help us distribute the vaccine safely and efficiently,” Evanofski said.

The drive-through flu clinic is located on the east side of DHMC near some administrative buildings that are mostly empty while many administrators continue to work from home, Evanofski said.

As of Friday afternoon, D-H had given out 6,500 shots at DHMC and the D-H community group practices in southern New Hampshire, D-H spokeswoman Audra Burns said in an email. There were nine more clinics scheduled at DHMC, with D-H employees helping to arrange others at schools and other community sites.

The new clinics haven’t come without challenges, Evanofski said. Organizers learned early on that bringing a dog to a flu clinic is not a good idea. Dogs get upset “watching someone come at you with something sharp,” she said.

As the flu season begins and the pandemic continues, flu shots in conjunction with continued efforts to mitigate the transmission of viruses including the one that causes COVID-19 — such as wearing masks, social distancing and hand washing — will be important in reducing the overall rate of illness in the community, Mercado said. As rates of infection spike outside of the Upper Valley, Mercado also urged that people be cautious in their travel during the upcoming holiday season.

“I think we cannot emphasize enough how we should follow these practices,” he said. “We aim to be able to control the spread (of disease) without having to lock things down again.”

Mercado also expressed concern that people may be growing wary of COVID-19 mitigation measures.

“This is really not a time to relax,” he said.

The Valley News has a list of Upper Valley flu clinics online at: https://www.vnews.com/OutAbout-Flu-Clinics-2020-36327171.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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