COVID-19 Pandemic Prompts Drive-Thru Flu Shots In Wisconsin

Communities Get Creative To Increase Availability, Convenience Of Influenza Vaccines

A woman in a mask and face shield reach into a vehicle to give a flu shot to the driver
Gary Eckstein of Middleton gets a flu shot from pharmacy student Cierra Brewer, center, at a drive thru location Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, at the UW Health Pharmacy Services building in Middleton. Angela Major/WPR

The coronavirus pandemic has health officials scrambling to come up with safe, convenient ways to get people immunized against the seasonal flu, which some fear could turn into a “twindemic” if COVID-19 cases continue to rise as the flu ramps up.

The seasonal flu typically picks up in October, and health officials around the state have been urging people to get vaccinated early at clinics, pharmacies and community sites.

Drive-thru clinics started last week in Milwaukee and Madison.

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Froedtert Hospital has two drive-thru locations available on specific dates at the Town Hall Health Center in Menominee Falls and at West Bend Hospital. UW Health has a tent set up in its parking lot at the Deming Way location in Middleton, and by Monday it had given more than 300 shots.

“When I was younger I never got the flu much, never paid attention to it,” said 71-year old James Scharch, of Middleton, who started getting regular flu shots in his mid-60s.

This year, concern over COVID-19 is on the back of his mind.

“Why risk having trouble with both if you can avoid it?” said Scharch, who had a precautionary COVID-19 test prior to having oral surgery over the summer and has not had any symptoms of COVID-19.

To prevent possible infection, Scharch and his spouse will forego their usual winter vacation to a warmer climate because of the pandemic.

a woman in a mask and face shield writes on a clip board while standing under a white tent outside set up for the drive thru service
Pharmacy student Samantha Lewiston, right, speaks to James Scharch, left, before he received his flu shot Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, at the UW Health Pharmacy Services building in Middleton. Angela Major/WPR

The city of Madison and Dane County health department will start a drive-thru flu clinic at the Alliant Energy Center on Oct. 6. Free flu shots will be available for people ages 6 months and older who do not have insurance or who have BadgerCare.

Advocate Aurora Health will be giving free flu vaccines in underserved Milwaukee neighborhoods from Wednesday through mid-October.

Fewer than half of Americans get vaccinated against influenza and that number drops as low as 20 percent in the Black community, said Cristy Garcia-Thomas, Aurora’s chief external affairs officer. That statistic is even lower for Black men over age 50.

In northeastern Wisconsin, Bellin Health will be hosting its first drive-up flu clinic in Sturgeon Bay this Saturday. Like other providers, it is also offering flu shots at its clinics, and spokesperson Kelly McBride Moore said there will be more places and more convenient times to accommodate as many people as possible.

During the 2019-20 flu season, less than half the adults in Wisconsin — 48 percent — were vaccinated. The rate for children 6 months to 17 years old was higher at 60 percent. Last year has been described as the worst in a decade for children when there were 188 pediatric flu deaths across the United States. Wisconsin health officials described it as a “bizarre” flu season which in its final months was overshadowed by COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to get immunized against the seasonal flu even if COVID-19 is spreading in a community, advising them to take the same precautions they would for other trips like wearing a mask to the grocery store.

Many people at higher risk of having serious complications from the flu also seem to be at higher risk if they are infected with COVID-19, according to the CDC.

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