Hundreds of mid-Missouri residents braved long lines, gray skies and blustery winds for a shot at the limited supply of flu vaccines on Thursday, as the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health held its annual flu clinic. The department used the clinic as a practice run for its mass vaccination plan, organized in response to potential biological threats or disease outbreaks.
“It’s a practice run, but yet we’re actually really dispensing things so it’s much more realistic,” said Heather Baer, spokesperson for the department.
This year’s shortage of flu vaccines was the perfect opportunity for the department to practice because workers had to get the vaccine out in a short amount of time — much like they would in an outbreak.
“As far as people knowing what their roles are, how they report, what they do, how it functions, this is a great way to test it out,” Baer said. “We look at everything from, ‘Do we have enough coffee?’ to ‘Did we get people through in a timely manner?’”
Meeting community needs
With 50 clinic workers and nearly 60 volunteers, the department averaged about 125 shots per hour. Baer estimated that nearly 1,450 doses were used during the course of the day. Community needs will continue to be assessed to determine where remaining doses should go. The cost of a vaccine was $10 and beneficiaries could use Medicare or Medicaid to pay for it.
Willard and Joyce Cox left their Centralia home at 6:30 a.m. to make it to Columbia in time to get the vaccine. They have been trying to get a flu shot for nearly three weeks and have had no success until today.
“I’m so thankful we got our shot because they don’t have any in Centralia,” Cox said. “It wasn’t bad at all, very well-organized.”
The clinic staff did not turn people away, but did evaluate their risk of complications from the virus. If individuals did not meet requirements for a shot, they were offered vouchers for the flu mist nasal spray, a new method of flu prevention that contains live virus strands. The spray is available for healthy individuals between the ages of 5 and 49.
“We’re trying to keep as many high-risk people protected as we can,” Baer said. The department will save the vaccines for people who can’t get a flu mist spray, she added.
Worth the wait
The clinic, originally scheduled to open at 9 a.m., was forced to open early because of long lines stretching around the perimeter of the parking lot on the corner of Worley Street and West Boulevard. Baer said people showed up early because they were confused about the time and wanted to ensure they would get a vaccine. When the event was planned, the opening hour was set for 7 a.m. — but the flu vaccine shortage caused the clinic to push back the start time.
“We did not want the very young and the very old standing out in the morning cold any earlier than we had to so we knew that was going to be an issue,” Baer said.
Aileen Berk brought her 8-year-old daughter Morgan to get the vaccine.
“She has asthma so she needs the shot,” Berk said. “We checked with her pediatrician and with the allergy doctor. None of them had shots. I figured this is the best bet to get it.”
Berk did not expect the long lines or standing outside. She said she thinks the rush to get the vaccine is due to unnecessary hype.
Laverne Jones, 66, said she feels the benefits of the vaccine far outweighs the hassle of waiting.
“The line was quite long,” Jones said. “But if it keeps you from getting the flu, it was well worth the wait.”
Although the early morning lines dropped off before noon, the department still experienced a steady stream of individuals seeking the vaccine until 5 p.m. when the offices closed, Baer said.