Lessons learned from influenza mass immunization clinics will serve us well as COVID-19 vaccination efforts ramp up

In recent influenza seasons, clinicians across the United States administer 140–150 million doses of influenza vaccine to people across the age span. CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age or older.

While influenza vaccine should be given throughout the influenza season to persons not yet vaccinated, the optimal time to vaccinate is before community circulation of influenza begins.  CDC recommends that vaccination efforts ideally begin by the end of October. Most flu vaccine, however, is administered in the 3½ month period from September through early December.

In order to administer this magnitude of flu vaccine doses, a wide range of strategies, partners, and locations are utilized, including primary care and other medical providers, pharmacies, visiting nurses and other home care services, mobile vaccination units, and vaccination clinics at senior centers and other locations convenient for high-risk persons. In addition, many communities utilize mass vaccination clinics to achieve nation-wide influenza vaccination each year.  

Mass immunization clinics, where many people in a community are vaccinated over a short period of time, are a critical tool in the public health toolbox to rapidly and efficiently provide influenza vaccinations. These clinics are frequently held in non-traditional or temporary settings, such as outdoor settings like parking lots and parks, and large indoor spaces, such as schools, community senior centers, and even indoor arenas. Patient flow may be managed through a variety of innovations, such as walk-through, drive-through, and curbside clinics, or by using mobile medical units.  The Immunization Action Coalition offers a web-based resource for development and management of mass immunization clinics to support increased utilization of mass immunization settings. Find this resource at https://www.mass-vaccination-resources.org/, with a link to a webinar providing best practices examples.

Now, as the nation focuses its attention and resources on the critical tasks of vaccinating our healthcare workers, long-term care residents, older adults, people with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers—and later vaccination of anyone 16 years and older who wants to be vaccinated as vaccine supplies allow—it is important that we adapt our skills in conducting influenza mass immunization clinics to COVID-19 vaccination. While COVID-19 mRNA vaccinations pose new storage and handling challenges, the overall planning and operationalization of mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics is not dramatically different from conducting mass influenza vaccination clinics. Planning considerations for mass COVID-19 vaccination includes setting up patient flow to incorporate social distancing, ensuring settings are accessible to people with disabilities and older adults, providing translators, providing waiting areas before and after vaccination, and recruiting a work force of vaccine-providing clinicians who are able to recognize and manage allergic reactions after vaccination.   

IAC is delighted to provide best practices for mass vaccination for influenza, COVID-19, and other vaccines in our “Resources for Developing Mass Vaccination Clinics” guide, available at: https://www.mass-vaccination-resources.org/ to support national efforts for COVID-19 vaccination.

While we must focus on COVID-19 vaccination efforts now, we should not forget that influenza has not gone away and is still circulating in the world, albeit at much lower levels.  As COVID-19 has reminded us and as influenza has demonstrated over and over, respiratory viruses that readily spread from person to person can amplify quickly when we let our guard down. We are battling COVID-19 now.  As the next influenza season approaches, we must activate our influenza vaccination plans again to maintain protection of our nation from influenza through vaccination.

To learn more about The Immunization Action Coalition, click here.



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