Doctors all over British Columbia are working hard to provide flu immunization access to people who need it. This year’s flu season presents a major challenge – vaccine delivery during a global pandemic requires creativity, partnership and organization.
Spearheaded by the Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice and partners, new outdoor flu clinics are offering immunizations to residents of all ages, in a COVID-safe manner. Clinics in Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, and New Westminster are open until the end of November – in the first three days of the clinics operating, nearly 1200 people received their vaccinations.
Division co-chair Dr Stephanie Aung says that with COVID-19 symptoms and flu symptoms being so similar, it is even more crucial this year that everyone gets the flu shot.
“As a family doctor, it is so important to me that my patients can access the flu shot in a safe and timely manner, and the outdoor flu clinics are providing that. The outdoor flu clinics in Tri- Cities and New Westminster allowed for COVID- safe flu shot administration, which has alleviated the pressure on family doctors’ offices, pharmacies and public health officess. Our patients are so grateful for these flu clinics, and the appreciation from the community has been overwhelming.”
“We want to make sure everyone gets the flu vaccine,” says Kristan Ash, executive director, Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice, “and it’s the partnerships that made it possible – doctors in the community, working with Fraser Health Authority who provided personal protective equipment and vaccine supplies, and the municipal governments who provided the clinic locations. It shows what we can achieve together with our partnerships and innovation.”
Medical students are volunteering to provide vaccines, and nursing students are volunteering as physician assistants to help vaccinate as m any people as quickly as possible. Firefighters are onsite volunteering their help with traffic control. Rotary Club members, retired nurses, retired physicians, and physician family members are also pitching in. Residents can walk or drive to the clinics, and register online to book at the location that suits them. Port Moody residents can get their shots outside City Hall, the Hyde Creek Recreation Centre is serving Port Coquitlam, and New Westminster locals can get immunized at the Canada Games Pool parking lot.
For division co-chair Dr Jennifer Yun, these clinics play a huge part in preparing for the future. “I'm most excited about using the learning from organizing the mass flu clinics in our communities, and applying it to the time when Covid-19 vaccine is available. We have created a system where the community partners can quickly provide the essential public health service, safely and efficiently."
Like their peers across the province, physicians in the Surrey North Delta Division of Family Practice have been planning for a busy flu season, says division Executive Director, Tomas Reyes. In partnership with Fraser Health and other stakeholders, the division developed two ongoing mass immunization clinics, one at the Surrey-Newton UPCC, and the other at Axis Primary Care Clinic. By reaching out to members early, the division found that many physicians were already taking a proactive approach to immunization, and these mass clinics are another key method to meet the demand of the large population. Reyes says that the division has been fortunate to have very willing partners in this and other project. “It has been a great conversation.”
“We are fortunate that we have people really willing to partner with us in primary care,” Reyes added, noting that these initial conversations were vital in the division’s community “which is so big and so complex, like a mammoth.”
The division successfully connected the mass immunization sites with their existing online booking system, creating a centralized path for people to book their flu shots in a convenient, streamlined way.
Along with mass immunization clinics, many physicians in the area have been adapting their own offices to vaccinate individuals seeking services, said Dr Nazia Niazi, division treasurer.
“In our clinic we anticipated a lot more people wanting the vaccine than they usually do, so we did data searches and printed out people who are at high risk, people who are at extremes of age, and so on. This year we had to step up our efforts, and observe COVID-19 precautions. We booked groups bubble-wise, so people from a whole family group, grandparents, parents, that kind of thing. They come in the front door and go out the back door.”
For division co-chair Dr Elaine Jackson, this kind of innovation and planning ahead is second-nature as a family doctor. “I thought the most important thing for us definitely was to make sure that everybody had access to immunizations, and that we had some kind of organized plan for that, particularly ahead of any upcoming COVID-19 vaccine when we get it. Everyone has realized they have to figure out who are their most at-risk patients. There’s been a lot of collaboration, it’s really important.”