NEW BEDFORD — The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced its flu vaccination campaign kickoff on Oct. 1 and local hospitals are jumping in and taking action through flu clinics.
Linda Hevenor, vice president of clinical operations for Southcoast Health, said that she was amazed at the turnout at one of the clinics. “There was a line down the hallway, something I haven’t seen in over four years,” she said.
According to the CDC, it was estimated that vaccination coverage for people 6 months and older increased nearly 52% during the 2019-2020 season from the previous year. Although the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, Hevenor said that it decreases the burden of respiratory illness, good for both patients and the health care workforce. She said that having a dual infection could lead to greater morbidity and mortality rates.
Southcoast Health is encouraging all staff, providers and patients to protect themselves against the upcoming flu season and offers multiple options to Southcoast Health primary care patients ages 18 and older to receive the vaccine.
“We are shooting for a 100% vaccination rate with the community,” she said.
The most popular option from Southcoast Health has been the outdoor clinics. This appointment-only option began two weekends ago at Charlton with a multidisciplinary team of medical assistants, nurses and paramedics offering vaccines to patients in a safe and socially distant manner under a tent in the parking lot. Patients are greeted by a valet who checks for PPE and temperature before directing to the check-in station.
The hospital has partnered with environmental services to sanitize the tent before opening for service and frequently throughout the shift, especially in between patients. Three patients are allowed in the tent at a time to ensure safety for both them and providers. Debra Botelho, RN and manager of clinical operations, has been working the clinics since the launch and said that there was a turnout of more than 200 patients at last weekend’s clinic at St. Luke’s. She predicts that the next two clinics will hit the same high numbers.
“We were looking for a convenient way to host a flu clinic in a comfortable environment accessible to all patients,” Botelho said. “So far it has been super successful. Every patient has said how wonderful it is and has thanked our healthcare workers, and even offered suggestions for next year’s clinic.”
Shawn Badgley, public information officer for Southcoast Health, said that clinics were seeing high participation from the public to the point that they are reaching capacity nearly all of them.
“It demonstrates an understanding of how important it is this season,” he said.
Botelho said the outdoor clinics will continue as long as they are in demand, and the temperature-controlled tent allows for an extended outdoor clinic season. She said that although the clinics have decided to focus on providing vaccines exclusively to its patients this year, it hopes to open it to the public next year.
Vaccinations are at no cost, no co-pay and open to the public at all seven urgent care centers stretching across the SouthCoast region of Fairhaven, Fall River, Lakeville, Seekonk, Dartmouth, Wareham and Middletown, R.I.
Patients can register at the urgent care centers and save their spot online with no wait or walk-up, but walk-ups are allowed. The outdoor flu clinics rotating between St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford and Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River are also offering vaccinations for free with no co-pay for Southcoast Primary Care Patients only. According to the Southcoast Health website, vaccines are preservative and latex free.
Pediatric and higher dose vaccines for ages 65 and older are not offered at the clinics at this time.
The mobile Wellness Van that participates in community outreach is not only offering free COVID-19 testing but flu vaccines as well.
Badgley said the van just piloted a mobile pediatrics flu clinic. Details will be finalized and vaccines will soon be available for children 6 months to 17 years old in the area. The van will be equipped with a full team of pediatric physicians, nurses and clinical staff visiting schools, housing authorities and the New Bedford Boys and Girls Club. Check southcoast.org for more details of where and when the van will travel to next.
Badgley said the previous clinics had a near 100 percent appointment fulfillment rate, with the first clinic having 96.3 percent of slots filled at Charlton on Sept. 26, 91.4 percent at St. Luke’s in Oct. 3, and 91.6 percent at last Saturday’s clinic at Charlton. He said that many patients were also making appointments with their primary care physicians to receive the vaccine.
More than 500 patients have been vaccinated for the flu season this year from these clinics. After this Saturday’s clinic, the number will surpass 750 distributed vaccines with 170 patients scheduled. With appointments starting early in the morning, the hospital can distribute many vaccines in just a few hours.
The next outdoor clinic will be held this Saturday, Oct. 17, from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Luke’s. Patients can click here to learn more about what to expect at their appointment.
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