Flu clinic went smoothly, but vaccine ran short
With only 1,200 doses available for the seasonal flu clinic at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Wednesday, by 10:30 am vaccination seekers were turned away. The four-hour event had been scheduled to wrap up at noon. A half-hour earlier, latecomers to the two Island drive-through staging areas, the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury and Dennis Alley Park (formerly Waban Park) in Oak Bluffs, found those locations closed.
But, for those who planned ahead and got an early start on the process the Island-wide effort at staging a public safety or disaster response, in combination with the clinic, was termed a "tremendous success" and an "important exercise" by those receiving flu shots, by clinicians, and by public safety professionals.
This year, for the first time, some of those seeking flu shots could remain in their cars and just put an arm out the window in the high school's four-lane outdoor clinic.
But the first step in the process was to report to one of the two staging areas. There, as early as 6:30 am, drivers were waiting in line. Once the process began, health care volunteers reviewed the paperwork, and drivers were sent on to the high school.
At the Ag Hall, the staging operation was staffed by 30 volunteers from the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA), Salvation Army, Wampanoag Tribe and Harley Riders Club, as well as representatives from all three up-Island police departments and the West Tisbury Fire Department, according to Hadden Blair of the West Tisbury Police Department.
Mr. Blair said that state and federal funding grants require the Island to have a mechanism or method of response in the event of a disaster. Ron MacLaren, the Wampanoag Tribe health director who served as the official public information officer for the flu clinic, explained that a program to establish an "emergency dispensing site" where medications can be administered with proper controls over the flow of the public is required.
"This is an important event," Mr. MacLaren said. "The exercise will demonstrate that the method we have developed makes sense. We have to demonstrate that we have thought through all the kinks."
By 7:20, there were 35 cars in two lines in West Tisbury. Betty Joslow of Aquinnah was among the first, and she was "pleasantly surprised. It is very well done."
Alba Eber of West Tisbury remarked that there "was a method to the system. In case of a pandemic this might work." Her husband Ken was "happy to see all these volunteers. It is what the Islanders do."
Susan McGhee of Chilmark was "amazed that so many people were here so early in the morning. It is awfully well organized." Another West Tisbury woman, who would not give her name, said that with all the "hoopla" about the seasonal flu and the swine flu, plus a recommendation from her physician, she had gotten up early to get into the line. "I have three young grandchildren with whom I spend a lot of time, and I want to be extra safe," she said.
At the high school, almost 200 people (volunteers and public safety personnel) were staffing the event inside and out.
Inside the gymnasium, there were 12 tables set up, each staffed by two nurses and an assistant. The nurses came from the VNA, the MV Hospital, and private physician's offices. Some were retirees who returned to practice for this clinic. Registered Nurse Kathleen Rose of Edgartown, for example, had been the CEO of the VNA back in the 1970s and said she returned to be a "shooter" at the flu clinic to "see all the people I worked with, see many of my former patients. It is like old home week."
According to Sandie Corr-Dolby, the VNA's clinical director who was in charge of all the clinical facets of the operation, 132 shots were administered in the first 15 minutes after the doors were opened at 8 am.
And, by 8:35 am, Ms. Corr-Dolby knew that "there are more people in the staging areas than there is vaccine." Together the Commonwealth and the private provider of vaccine short-changed the Island's vaccine order by a total of 1,000 shots. According to Ms. Corr-Dolby, "I am guessing that we will be out by 10:30 am. Fortunately the staging areas are keeping the process slow and steady."
By 8:45 am, 450 people had been inoculated at the high school. By contrast, during the 2008 Island-wide flu shot clinic, which did not include the staging area process, 800 inoculations were done in the first hour.
"Last year, tons of people came in a rush," Ms. Corr-Dolby said. "This year the flow is controlled by the staging areas." She added that a slow and steady process was an operational goal in 2009. Another goal was to ensure that those getting shots had a "good experience so that they will return to get flu shots in future years."
To help the organizers gather as much information during the process as possible, volunteers rode along with a randomly selected flu shot seekers. Lena Vanderhoop of Edgartown was one of those volunteers. "I looked in the driver's window, and if she was alone, and I asked if she minded my riding along," she said. She got in the car at 8:50 am in the Alley Park staging area and within five minutes the car had proceeded to the front of the line. By 9:26, the driver was at the high school. Ms. Vanderhoop entered the gymnasium at 9:32 am, and her driver had already completed the inoculation process.
Drive-through was popular
The drive-through option was very popular, and nurses were moved from the gym to the outdoors to meet the demand there. For example, between 9:45 and 10 am, 33 people received shots in the gym, while 69 chose to stay in their cars to receive their shots.
"It seems to work," said one drive-through user. "And it involves an incredible number of people."
Another woman said that remaining in the car made a lot of sense to limit exposure to germs. "You'd want to keep everybody separate," she said. "You wouldn't want to stand around a lot of people" in the gymnasium.
Ms. Corr-Dolby agreed. "In a pandemic you would want a drive-through. Outside is a better way to go."
At 10:15 am, with only 14 shots remaining, Ms. Corr-Dolby moved the entire operation to the drive-through lanes, and it took only another five minutes before the she declared an official end to the process.
Inside, one of the last recipients was Claire Thacher of Chappaquiddick. At Alley Park she found helpful volunteers, but she was concerned with the speed of the operation. "It seemed like it was going to take hours," she said, "but I was told it would only take an hour, and 20 minutes later they were directing me here."
By last count, officially 1,213 inoculations were administered. Many who came also took advantage of the pneumonia vaccinations as well as the tetanus shots that were available. Some had their blood pressure checked, as well.
Several Rotary Club members as well as American Red Cross volunteers were posted to answer questions and direct people. One volunteer commented, "it was really fun and a good thing to do."
"We learned a lot today," Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake told the gathered volunteers. He had heard some complaints about the staging area in Oak Bluffs. He mentioned some communication problems early on. "We need to work on the communications between the police and others in the future."