More than 1,300 flu shots were administered in Juneau over the weekend in a joint effort by local and state health authorities to distribute the vaccine heading into flu season.
Health care workers gave 821 vaccinations on Saturday at a drive-thru event at Thunder Mountain High School, according to Alison Gottschlich, nurse manager with the Alaska Division of Public Health, and 511 on Sunday at a walk-in clinic at Floyd Dryden Middle School, for a total of 1,332.
Saturday morning, dozens of cars lined up, winding their way from the back parking lot of the high school around to the front, where several white tents were arranged for several lanes of inoculation stations. To minimize contact, Juneauites were asked to bring their own pens to fill out basic information and consent forms before receiving a quick injection without leaving their vehicle.
Health officials last week voiced concern about the additional stress an outbreak of influenza might have on the state’s health care infrastructure during the coronavirus pandemic. City and state health officials set up the coordinated effort to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible, the City and Borough of Juneau announced last week.
Both public and private health organizations contributed to the event, said Tom Mattice, CBJ emergency program manager, with volunteers coming from all over Juneau. Standing in the parking lot of TMHS Saturday morning, Mattice said he didn’t know exactly how many volunteers were working that day.
“I have no idea. Lots. There’s a tremendous number of people here, and that includes (Department of Parks and Recreation) setting up in the morning,” he said. “It’s neat to see.”
The city runs a free flu-shot clinic most years, Mattice said, and typically sees about 200 people. This year changes had to be made to allow for more social distancing he said, which made things more complicated, but Saturday morning things seemed to be going well.
“And we were very fortunate to have had a beautiful day to do it on,” he said.
Mattice said officials didn’t know how many people to expect, but that the operation had 700 syringes they were hoping to get through over the weekend. But officials ended up vaccinating over 800 Juneauites on Saturday alone.
“We did end up needing to borrow vaccine and needles from several local medical providers because our turnout was higher than expected,” Gottschlich said in a text message Monday. “We are so grateful to our local partners who provided vaccine and needles to us at the last minute so that we were able to vaccinate everyone who wanted one.”
The event was also meant as a practice run for health officials for the eventual distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, Sarah Hargrave, southeast regional nurse manager for Alaska Division of Public Health told the Empire last week. Both operations went smoothly Gottschlich said was a “wonderful collaboration” among many local partners and volunteers.
“We are so happy that over 1,300 Juneauites are better protected against the flu, and those 1,300 are also helping to protect their loved ones against the flu as well,” she said.
Even before the weekend’s free clinics, flu shot numbers were up throughout the state.
The number of flu shots distributed in Alaska from Aug. 1, to Oct. 20, this year is significantly higher than the past two years, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said in a news conference last week. More than 117,000 Alaskans received flu vaccines this year compared to roughly 95,000 in 2019 and 84,000 in 2018.
Hargrave told the Empire last week widespread flu vaccinations help improve overall health, particularly in winter months when cold and flu seasons begin. The number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska shot up over the weekend with the state breaking its own daily record two days in a row, reporting more than 500 new cases on Sunday.
In Juneau, the city is working to contain the spread of the coronavirus both in the general population and among people experiencing homelessness. The city reported 75 active cases Monday, but only three patients hospitalized for COVID-19.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.