Public Health Nursing and Petersburg Medical Center are holding a drive-through flu shot clinic or POD (Point of Dispensing) Saturday, Oct. 17. PMC created this map to show the route traffic will follow.

Free flu shots will be available in Petersburg in a drive-through clinic on Saturday, Oct. 17. Public Health Nursing and Petersburg Medical Center have teamed up to try to immunize as many people as possible this year because of COVID-19. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

More people in Alaska get influenza between October and May than in the summertime. Health care providers try to counter that in the fall by encouraging flu shots. Local medical experts in Petersburg say that getting the shot this year is more important than ever.

“By getting the vaccine we’re reducing the respiratory illness in our community and decreasing the burden on the health care system during the current pandemic,” said Dr. Jennifer Hye.

Hyer spoke about the issue during a recent PMC Live monthly radio show.

“It’s a way that we can all protect the vulnerable population of Petersburg that are at risk in our community,” she said.

Flu and COVID symptoms overlap and both can cause complications such as pneumonia. Hyer says getting the flu shot not only conserves health care resources, it reduces the risk of illness, hospitalization, and death.

“People who have other underlying chronic illnesses tend to get sicker from the flu and from COVID,” Hyer said. “They come in dehydrated, needing oxygen, just needing supportive care.”

Because flu viruses are constantly changing the vaccine is updated every year. Hyer says the composition of the U.S. flu vaccine is reviewed annually and made to match the top viruses that are circulating.

“The flu vaccine will protect against the three or four viruses that research shows for that year will be the most common,” said Hyer.

Hyer and other health care providers hope that the free clinic will be a way to reach the most people. Everyone six months and older can get a shot. The free vaccines are available through the State of Alaska.

The drive-through clinic is also an emergency preparedness exercise. It allows local medical responders to challenge their capabilities for administering immunizations or medications to as many people as possible. This type of clinic could be used when a COVID vaccine becomes available.

Julie Walker is PMC’s Rehab Services Coordinator and she says the drive-through should run efficiently.

“We’ll have little stations, kind of like a gas station, somebody will be directing you into your slot to get your vaccine,” Walker said.

The vaccine includes only “dead virus” which triggers people’s immune system to create antibodies. PMC’s Nurse Manager Jennifer Bryner says it’s impossible for people to get the flu form the vaccine. She says sometimes people feel a little sore afterwards and that’s a normal inflammatory response.

“That’s actually your body recognizing that flu and building antibodies to be able to fight it,” Bryner said. “So, it’s actually a good thing if you feel maybe a little achy or tired, you know, often times you’ll have a sore arm but that’s actually your body mounting that response so that when it sees the actual flu later on it can fight it.”

Also, Bryner says, there are times when people get sick with other kinds of respiratory viruses in the months following their vaccination, which have similar symptoms.

“They maybe have a cold or RSV, which is a different type of respiratory virus,” Bryner said, “but they can get other respiratory illnesses but the flu shot protects just against the flu.

The prevalence of influenza in Petersburg depends on the year. Liz Bacom is PMC’s Infection Prevention Manager. She says some years they see over a hundred cases in town. It depends on community behavior, how the virus is circulating, and the type of flu that’s present.

Bacom says immunizations won’t prevent all sicknesses or even all types of influenza but she says even though there is no 100 percent guarantee, it’s still worth it.

“There is a very good chance that you won’t get as sick,” Bacom said. “It’s kind of like wearing a seatbelt in a car, you know, the seatbelt is going to protect you and as much as you can do all the things to be careful when you’re driving, you still have to do all the things to be careful from getting sick.”

PMC is asking people with symptoms to call the COVID hotline before going to the drive-through. That way people can speak to a nurse who can help them decide what to do next. If needed, patients could be tested for COVID and the flu at the same time. Health providers also plan to go to the Mountain View Manor Assisted Living facility to administer flu shots there as well.  

The free flu shot drive-through clinic will be this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. near the elementary school. People can also walk through the clinic if they don’t want to drive. You can pre-register at PMC’s website. If you don’t pre-register, you’ll have to fill out forms during the drive-through. If you need a ride, note that on your form and PMC will try to help coordinate a ride for you.

Health care providers are asking people to wear short sleeves. Babies can get the shot in their leg.