As COVID-19 cases spiked in New Mexico and across the country during flu season, health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to stress the importance of getting a flu shot. Receiving an annual influenza vaccine can help protect people from getting the flu, strengthen immunity and prevent the spread of influenza — all of which are now more important than ever to help prevent a “twindemic” of both the flu and COVID-19.
“During these uncertain times with COVID-19 and the pandemic, there are many reasons why it’s important to get your flu shot, and the number one reason that comes to mind is your health and to protect you and your family members,” said Liz Gutierrez of BCBSNM’s Quality Improvement department.
To fight the flu and improve access to preventive health care, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico’s (BCBSNM) Care Van® program has long worked with community partners to provide no-cost flu shots and other services for New Mexicans statewide. This year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, BCBSNM ramped up efforts to host flu shot clinics in the Care Vans, the two mobile health clinics provided by BCBSNM’s community partnership program.
Starting in September, BCBSNM worked with Walgreens to provide influenza immunizations for the community in the Care Vans at Walgreens throughout the state, including 12 events in Albuquerque, two in Las Cruces, two in Santa Fe, and others in Los Lunas, Roswell and Edgewood.
“Getting people vaccinated helps reduce the disease burden, and this partnership is great because the accessibility of pharmacies helps allow people to get access to the vaccine,” said Walgreens Pharmacist Melinda Chappell during one of the flu shot clinics in Albuquerque. “We really want to reach the community. Not everyone has access to health care, especially in New Mexico. Even today we’ve reached a couple of people who walked in and said that they were homeless or that they just can’t get into the doctor.”
Community members who attended the flu shot clinics said they appreciated the accessibility of the event.
“We can easily find it but also get in and out very quickly,” said Albuquerque resident Bryan Sichler.
“It’s a lot easier when it’s out here,” said Manuel, another Albuquerque resident. “Thank you, guys, for doing this for the community.”
To aid in the protection of attendees’ health and safety, the flu shot clinics were set up for social distancing, and increased cleaning procedures were implemented to sanitize clipboards, hand railings and Care Van rooms between each patient. In compliance with the New Mexico Public Health Order, all attendees were required to wear a mask or cloth face covering.
The Care Vans also hosted flu shot clinics for BCBSNM employees and their families at several Albuquerque Walgreens, where more than 300 people received the vaccine.
In early 2020, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in New Mexico, BCBSNM’s Care Van program worked with the New Mexico Department of Health to provide flu shots at the Roundhouse, the New Mexico State Capitol building.
So far this year, more than 900 people have received the influenza vaccination through BCBSNM’s flu shot initiatives.
“The general public is coming out to get flu shots. We’ve seen a lot more this year than in the past, which is exciting,” said Tony Nichols, a community outreach specialist with the Care Van program. “It’s been very exciting to get back out and serve again.”