Following a widespread flu outbreak last year, Island boards of health are encouraging Vineyarders to take extra precaution and receive free vaccinations at clinics scheduled for this weekend.
The boards of health are sponsoring free flu clinics on Saturday at the West Tisbury School and Waban Park in Oak Bluffs. The clinics will be held from 9 a.m. to noon, and will be done via a drive-through station. Walk-ins will also be taken at the West Tisbury School.
Edgartown board of health agent Matt Poole said the clinics will have approximately 2,400 vaccines on hand. Previous clinics have usually had about 1,000 vaccines, he said.
The clinic is open only to students of high school age and older. Children who have not yet reached the ninth grade must visit their pediatrician to receive a flu shot.
This is the only flu clinic planned so far, Mr. Poole said. He encouraged everyone to turn out, roll down their car windows and roll up their sleeves.
“Don’t bank on a future clinic, but if we have to do another one we’ll do everything we can,” the health agent said.
The vaccines are free, but Island boards of health are asking patients to come prepared with insurance and Medicare information. The boards will seek reimbursement where they can. Proceeds from the reimbursements will go toward purchasing vaccines for next year.
Last year’s flu activity spurred Boston mayor Thomas Menino to declare a public health emergency for the city. On the Vineyard, Island pharmacies ran out of their doses of flu vaccine and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital hosted an emergency free clinic to meet demand. The hospital reported 31 cases of influenza last year.
Mr. Poole said having the drive-through option makes good practice for larger events. The clinic is being run under the incident command structure, similar to police and fire departments use in emergency management scenarios.
“It’s a way to practice another option that may become necessary in the future if there’s some horrific pandemic or something,” Mr. Poole said. “In the course of planning and conversations, we decided we would opt to exercise the drive-through option, which we had contemplated for several years.”
Mr. Poole said the boards of health decided to hold the flu clinic earlier, too. The clinic is historically held on Veterans Day weekend, but given last year’s swell of flu cases and potential travel dates for Islanders, they decided to move the date.
Patients are asked to come prepared with documentation including a screening questionnaire and a vaccine administration record. Forms are available on the town websites and will be available at the clinics as well.
About 20 per cent of the vaccines are paid for by the state and the towns make up the difference in cost, he said.
Health agents and practitioners on the Island said it is too early to predict what the flu season will be like this year.
“I’ve heard the word spoken a few times but I don’t know if it was the flu or not,” Mr. Poole said. “The state begins to notify the boards of health and agencies once cases are reported.”
The state Department of Public Health publishes weekly influenza activity reports, and so far reports of the flu have been minimal. Activity is very low and consistent with levels normally seen during this time of year in the commonwealth. Nationwide reports of flu are similarly low.
The flu tends to peak in the winter months, around February and March, when people are mostly indoors and germs have a chance to incubate and spread, chief nursing officer at the hospital Carol Bardwell said.
“When people get stuck inside and viruses can spread is usually how it gets passed,” she said.
There have been no cases of the flu reported at the hospital this season, she said. The hospital received immunizations in late July and has 80 per cent of the staff already vaccinated..
Ms. Bardwell said the hospital is prepared to meet a spike in flu cases if the need arises. The Island usually follows nationwide trends, she said.
“We’ve never been out of range of the country or the region. That year when it was all the kids and college kids who had it, it hit us that way too. There are no anomalies compared to the rest of the country just because we live on an Island.” Vineyard pediatrician Dr. Michael
Goldfein said he hasn’t seen any cases of flu yet, but his office has been administering vaccines for several weeks now.
“It’s been remarkably quiet out there, and I have friends around the country who also practice pediatrics and I haven’t heard any rumblings,” he said. “The biggest word of wisdoms is if parents are concerned about their children catching the flu they really should get them protected, that’s the most important thing.”
Flu cases change year to year, Mr. Goldfein said, though last year was “particularly bad.”
“It his us early, earlier than it ever had in the past,” Dr. Goldfein said. “We’re usually hit much later than the rest of the world. We don’t see a lot of flu until February but last year it came early. And then it disappeared. It didn’t reappear until springtime.”
“It’s a real variable,” he continued. “Last year’s performance is no predictor of what will come this year.”