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Drive-through flu shot clinics put public in the driver's seat

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 6:03 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Gwen Franz, the clinical coordinator for St. Barnabas Medical Center in Gibsonia, gives Charlie Stainton, 81, of Gibsonia a flu shot in his car on Friday, October 25, 2013, at St. Barnabas.

Drive in. Roll up sleeve. Say ouch.

Throughout the nation, drive-through flu shot clinics are gaining popularity, making it as easy to get the seasonal vaccination as it is to pick up a burger and fries for lunch.

The process of getting the shot is basically the same as at an indoor clinic.

Fill out the paperwork.

Wait your turn.

Then receive the shot from a trained medical professional.

It simply “provides people with another quick, easy way to get vaccinated without even having to get out of the car,” said Holli Senior, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, which has conducted drive-through clinics across the state.

Already, 58 cases of influenza were reported in Pennsylvania as of last week, including 15 in Butler County, six in Washington County, four each in Allegheny and Fayette counties, two in Indiana County and one in Westmoreland County, according to the health department.

Locally, a number of drive-through clinics have been operating this season.

Indiana County will dispense 2,000 free flu shots at three drive-through locations on Sunday — a first in that county.

“This makes it very convenient, to do it on the weekend,” said Maureen Pound, 52, of Marion Center, who planned to take her elderly parents and teenage son to one of the clinics. “Instead of hauling the wheelchair in and out of the doctor's office, we'll just roll up our sleeves.”

The clinics — at Indiana Regional Medical Center in Indiana Borough, the Clymer Volunteer Fire Department and WyoTech vocational-technical school in Burrell Township — will operate until 2 p.m. They are open to anyone 6 months or older, regardless of insurance and are not limited to residents of Indiana County.

“We're looking for the fastest and most effective way to get medicine out to the general public,” said Jessica Clark, emergency preparation coordinator at the medical center.

St. Barnabas Medical Center in Gibsonia has been giving drive-through flu shots for about seven years, spokeswoman Robin Taylor said.

“We're pretty aggressive about trying to get people to get their flu shots,” she said. “Our first flu shot clinic (this year) was in September.”

St. Barnabas dispenses 2,000 flu shots a year to its patients and the community at large through various clinics, indoors and out.

The drive-through service, particularly aimed at those with medical or mobility problems, is offered by appointment, she said.

Drive-through clinics have existed since the 1990s, but their popularity has increased in recent years, partly fueled by a societal push for convenience and speed in accomplishing everyday tasks, but also driven by an aging baby boomer population just beginning to experience medical problems that limit mobility.

Researchers at the University of Louisville led by Ruth Carrico published a study last year on the safety and feasibility of its drive-through flu shot program initiated 19 years ago.

The clinic, one of the first in the country, has dispensed more than 50,000 doses of influenza vaccine since then with no reports of accidents or other ill-effects.

“When we started, the idea was to provide an alternative for people with mobility issues,” said Carrico, an associate professor at the university's medical school. “The first time we opened, traffic was all backed up. We had to have the police. It was a real surprise for us.”

Pickups full of construction workers on lunch; cars with moms and dads in the front, their parents in the back; even a school bus load of bus drivers showed up, she said.

Over the years, Carrico said she has received requests for information about the drive-through program from just about every state.

Influenza causes between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths per year in the United States, the CDC said. About 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 and older.

Manufacturers are expected to produce between 135 million and 139 million doses of flu vaccine for the 2013-14 influenza season, the CDC said. The agency doesn't track how much of that will be dispensed at drive-through clinics.

Last flu season, the flu was particularly severe for people 65 and older, prompting the CDC to report the highest flu-related hospitalization rates in that age group since it began tracking that information eight years ago.

The Indiana County clinics will give emergency management officials an opportunity to test the county's system for mass distribution of medications in emergency situations, part of a nationwide emergency preparedness drill to see how quickly and efficiently large numbers of people can be vaccinated.

“The federal government wants us to be able to vaccinate all of our local population within 48 hours,” said Kelly Pidgeon, manager of the county's Points of Dispensing System.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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