As COVID-19 concerns linger, drive-through flu shot options grow
Flu shots always are recommended this time of year, but with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic there are more concerns -- and options -- for consumers.
Some businesses, such as retail pharmacies and health care providers, are offering a drive-through alternative to in-house vaccinations this season.
The option comes as some remain cautious about going inside a pharmacy or office setting, making ongoing concerns about COVID-19 a significant factor in preparing for the start of flu season.
Health officials have intensified their message regarding the need for flu vaccines, and everyone 6 months and older is being urged to be vaccinated sooner rather than later.
"This season more than ever, it is critical that Illinoisans get our flu shots," Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a release last week.
To meet demand and allay fears, entities such as Jewel-Osco, Advocate Aurora Health and PediaTrust, a network of 19 Northern and Western suburban pediatrician offices, are among those offering drive-through flu vaccines.
Since the end of August, drive-through flu vaccines have been available at most offices in the PediaTrust network, said Dr. Susan Sirota, a pediatrician who practices at Pediatric Partners in Highland Park and Vernon Hills.
"Now more than ever, flu vaccines are critical for children to receive," said Sirota, chairwoman of PediaTrust's board of managers. Children are major spreaders of the flu virus, she noted.
More than half the 6,000 vaccines given at PediaTrust locations have been at the drive-through, and for the most part, patients don't get out of their vehicles or undo their seat belts.
"We have had such positive feedback," Sirota said. "It has been one of the most effective and efficient ways we're giving care."
Advocate Aurora Health is offering more than a dozen drive-through clinics in the Chicago area, as well as additional pediatric drive-throughs in Wilmette, Park Ridge and Chicago's South Side for children 6 months and older.
The clinics are by appointment only. Visit www.advocateaurorahealth.org/flu-shot/.
"It is so important to get your flu shot, and so we want to offer options for our patients to ensure they're getting the care they need," said Patty Mahoney, director of physician practice management at Advocate Medical Group.
The city of Aurora announced Wednesday that it is teaming with VNA Health Care to offer drive-through flu shots every Friday in October at Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive. The clinics will be offered to everyone over 4 years old.
No appointments are necessary, and VNA is accepting all insurance with no co-pay or deductible. Vaccinations will be free for those without insurance.
Morning clinics are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 2, 16 and 30, and afternoon clinics are available from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 9 and 23.
"As we plan for the flu season amid COVID-19, it is important we provide our community easy and accessible opportunities to get flu shots," Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin said in a news release.
The Jewel-Osco chain began offering drive-through clinics at selected locations Sept. 18. Participants should fill out a vaccine consent form in advance, which will be automatically sent to the applicable pharmacy.
"With the current situation, our teams took a service we have historically provided and found a way to update it to better meet our patients' needs," said Chandni Clough, patient care services manager.
The Lake County Health Department also used the drive-through method twice last week in the parking lot of its Waukegan headquarters to deliver flu vaccines to about 300 county employees.
Many people are working remotely during the pandemic, and the drive-through clinics provided a convenient option without employees having to enter a building, health department spokeswoman Hannah Goering said.
There was another purpose, she said.
"We have a drive-through vaccination process in our plans for mass vaccination for COVID-19, when a vaccine arrives," Goering said. "Our agency wanted to test the process so we can refine our plans before a vaccine is available."
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed in July said they definitely or likely will get a flu shot this season compared to 34% surveyed in January, according to Rhode Island-based CVS Health.
While it doesn't offer a drive-through flu shot option at its 378 Illinois locations, the chain plans to administer 18 million flu shots this season, nearly double that in 2019.