Drive-thru flu shots? Quebec health officials are studying innovative ways to vaccinate

The pandemic has compelled Quebec health authorities to come up with innovative ways to deliver influenza vaccinations to millions of Quebecers this season, and setting up drive-thru clinics is one option, according to Quebec's Health Ministry.

"This strategy has been used outside Quebec for several years," a health ministry spokesperson told CTV in an email, confirming the ministry has "suggested that institutions assess whether this measure could be one of the ways the service is offered," in Quebec this year.

The goal is to ensure the at-risk population can get a flu shot in a safe, distanced setting at a time when the SARS-Cov-2 virus that causes COVID-19 might still be circulating in the community.

It’s a significant challenge, given the fact that the two viruses affect roughly the same population of seniors, people with chronic health problems and those who are immunocompromised.

The head of the infection prevention and control unit at Ste-Justine Hospital said in an interview with CTV that the institution has ruled out drive-thru clinics for its young patients.

"You have a child strapped in a car seat, you have to aim for the thigh – impossible," concluded Dr. Caroline Quach.

Ste-Justine will instead offer influenza vaccines to patients who are followed at the hospital, when they come for regular appointments.

However, it’s another story for adults, Quach said, because "you stay in your car, you get vaccinated in your car, you just hang around in your car and if you don’t feel well, you honk. And so it’s possible."

The infectious diseases specialist is more skeptical when it comes to the feasibility of drive-thrus in Quebec’s chilly November and December weather.

"I just don’t know how you would do this when it’s minus 30 and you actually have to strip in your car, open the window."

To get a COVID-19 drive-thru test this past spring, all that was needed was an exposed nose

But the health network is exploring a variety of other options because the usual clinics, involving mass gatherings at shopping malls and recreation centres, aren’t allowed this year.

Home vaccination is possible but is inefficient, said Quach. Canada's Public Health Agency suggested extending some clinic hours to avoid overcrowding, holding multiple smaller clinics, creating special hours for seniors at pharmacies, or setting up mobile clinics in vans and buses.

Another proposed idea involves reducing the amount of time a person has to wait on-site after they are vaccinated, but only under certain conditions.

“You’re not driving a car, you never had adverse events after a vaccine, you don’t lose consciousness after a vaccine…if you’re able to maintain all those, a shorter time frame is possible,” Dr. Quach explained.

Of course, the institutions also have to ensure they have enough health care workers on hand to administer all the flu shots, when the staffing shortage is so acute already.

As in previous years, Quebec’s flu vaccine program targets primarily people aged six months to 74 years who live with a chronic illness, as well as those aged 75 and over.

Many pharmacists will also be offering influenza and pneumococcal vaccines at pharmacies around the province.

Quebec’s Health Ministry is also calling on health authorities to prepare action plans in order to make sure they reach and immunize those most at risk.

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