Harford drivers pull up for flu shots

November 04, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

As 70-year-old Jim Koryto pulled into the parking lot at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen yesterday, he rolled down his window and rolled up his sleeve as he and his wife, Helen, placed an order for two flu shots to go.

They are among thousands of area residents taking advantage of drive-through clinics this season.

The clinics began popping up around the country in the early 1990s when a Southern California hospital offered the service to on-the-go consumers.

Hundreds lined up for shots last week at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia. A Kaiser Permanente clinic in Rockville offers shots during commuter hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

In Harford County, residents pulled their cars into one of four lines yesterday and waited - arms dangling from their windows - as nurses gave them flu shots. All were on their way in 10 minutes.

It was the first drive-through clinic offered by the county, and more than 600 residents took advantage of the service. Nurses said the trial run went well. They manned tables stocked with gauze, Band-Aids, cotton balls and antiseptic ointment and said the only difference between administering the shots in a doctor's office was the wind.

Motorists made three stops: one to fill out forms, one to get the shot and finally to pay the $15 fee - all without leaving their cars.

County health commissioner Dr. Andrew Bernstein said the clinic was also a chance to test the county's emergency preparedness in case of bioterrorism, pandemic or natural disaster.

David Webster, a Bethlehem, Pa.-based consultant on pharmaceutical and vaccine supply and pricing, said an increased number of people seeking flu shots has led to the "McDonaldization" of the procedure.

In the 1980s, flu vaccinations were targeted at those at the biggest risk for health consequences from the flu. But there was a large push in the 1990s that continues today toward healthy adults getting immunized.

"If you ask the consumer, I think the consumer is very happy about the development," he said.

The Korytos savored their drive-through experience. Though they are both at the at-risk age, long lines kept them from even attempting to get flu shots the past two years.

"This was wonderful," said 66-year-old Helen Koryto.

Churchville resident Erica Valdes looked on as daughter Leah, 9, and son Lucas, 7, received shots from nurses leaning in through the car's open rear doors. Leah read a book, while Lucas told the nurse, Andrea Jones, he was ready - he's had splinters before, how bad could this be?

"I'd say that went really well," said Valdes, 47. "Being able to be in familiar surroundings is a real comfort. They're not around strangers in a strange place that smells bad."

A car with three women pulled up in another line - they had carpooled to their flu shots.

During flu season, which runs October through March and peaks in February, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population will come down with the flu, leading to 36,000 flu-related deaths and 200,000 flu-related hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The seasonal flu is a respiratory illness with symptoms that include fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Stomach ailments may occur among children. People 65 and older and those with certain medical conditions are considered to be the most at-risk.

The state Health Department yesterday reported its first case of influenza this season when laboratory tests confirmed a woman from Baltimore had come down with the "B" strain.

There was a shortage of vaccines last year after the shutdown of an English manufacturing plant of one of the larger suppliers, Chiron Corp. Maryland officials said this week that plenty of flu vaccine is on the way this season, though it is arriving in installments. Thirteen of the state's 24 local health departments are still receiving their supply, officials said.

Count Harford among the counties still waiting for their orders. So far, the county has received about two-thirds of its supply, said Bernstein, though he said there was no cause for concern.

"People start looking to get flu shots around Labor Day, but you can still get them in November and December, and they will be effective," Bernstein said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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