Collaboration leads to flu-shot clinic

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Islanders who are eligible for publicly funded flu shots will find an innovative approach to ensuring they get their vaccination done this fall.

Health-care providers from the public and private streams have come together to vaccinate as many people as possible during three days of appointments taking place at the Gulf Islands Secondary School gym from Friday, Nov. 6 through Sunday, Nov. 8. The event will see 12 family doctors, 10 Lady Minto Hospital nurses, Island Health’s public health nursing team and pharmacists from Pharmasave and Country Grocer providing immunization shots and nasal spray in a large but COVID-safe group setting.

Public health nurse Calico Chang said she was starting to put together Island Health’s regular one-day community flu clinic when the idea for a larger event came up in discussion with Lady Minto Hospital chief of staff, Dr. David Butcher.

“We quickly realized if we could bring together all our collective manpower and strength, we could serve the community better,” Chang said. “We’re hoping to immunize up to 1,200 people, which is pretty challenging to do in a safe way, but we’re very sure that we can do that . . . The flow will be quick and very safe.”

Most doctors are not seeing as many patients in person since the pandemic struck, so having the flu clinic will leave appointment times open for people with other needs. Family physicians are happy to serve at the alternate location, though: Dr. Clare Rustad reported she is “obnoxiously enthusiastic” about immunizing people. That sentiment is shared by Jenny Redpath, a nurse and nursing educator who works at Lady Minto Hospital.

“It’s kind of a unique opportunity because we’re one of the few communities that’s really been able to bring all these partners together,” Redpath said.

As she pointed out, Salt Spring’s community clinic is perhaps unique in the province in that pharmacists with be working with the health authority to make sure the high need is met. Flu clinics have already started at the two participating island pharmacies and interest has been extremely high this year.

“Ultimately the goal is to put less stress on the health-care system so that people who are coming in with symptoms that may be interpreted as COVID and are actually flu can be ruled out. And you don’t want both at the same time,” observed Rob Lowrie, a community relations director at Country Grocer.

“The flu can affect the lungs, and with COVID that’s obviously the issue,” agreed Pharmasave pharmacist Henry Lopez. “So we want to protect people from having both COVID and flu, because that could be fairly detrimental to their health.”

Country Grocer and Pharmasave are also sharing donation of disposable masks and other supplies for the event, while the grocery store will be providing refreshments for all patients following their immunization. The Lady Minto Hospital Ladies Auxiliary is meanwhile providing advertising dollars and all the supplies for two of the three days.

Chang said the planning team is working with public health guidelines to ensure the smooth and safe flow of patients. The online booking program schedules appointments every five minutes and people should arrive right at their designated time. There will not be more than 50 people in the gym at one time, and a touchless system will be used to sign in, with help from volunteer ambassadors.

Salt Spring Fire Rescue and Salt Spring Ground Search and Rescue members will be on hand afterwards to check on patients, who will wait for 15 minutes in their cars before leaving. There will also be properly spaced seating in the gym where people who don’t have cars can wait.

Booking for appointments is done through islandfluclinics.ca. People who are eligible for the free shot include children six months to less than five years of age, pregnant women, seniors 65 years and older, residents of any age living in residential care, assisted living or other group facilities, Indigenous people, children and adults with certain medical conditions and those who are very obese. Also eligible are the close household contacts of any of the above and people who work with poultry.

“From the public health standpoint there are certain risk factors that put people at higher risk, but anyone that’s going to come into contact with anyone that has those risks would be advised to get the flu shot. So the chances are that most people would qualify for the publicly funded flu shot,” Redpath said.

People are asked not to make or keep their appointment if they have cold or flu symptoms. They should arrive with a mask, wear a short-sleeved shirt and bring their government services card or other ID. For more information, see islandhealth.ca/flu.

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