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Hawaii medical Airmen conduct drive-thru flu vaccinations

Tech. Sgt. Alvin Turla, 154th Medical Group aerospace medical service specialist, administers the flu shot to Master Sgt. Bradley Tabron 154th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operations specialist during a Hawaii Air National Guard drive-thru vaccination operation held Oct. 3, 2020, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Tech. Sgt. Alvin Turla, 154th Medical Group aerospace medical service specialist, administers the flu shot to Master Sgt. Bradley Tabron 154th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operations specialist during a Hawaii Air National Guard drive-thru vaccination operation held Oct. 3, 2020, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – It's not your average drive-thru. There are no cheeseburgers or servings of fries. You can't order any milkshakes and you can't request a super-sized beverage. There's no combos to consider; they don't even have menus. No, the only thing they dish out at this drive-thru is a healthy serving of immunity.

Immunity in the form of the flu vaccine. The 154th Medical Group Airmen 'served-up' doses of it at drive-thru vaccinations held during the Hawaii Air National Guard's October and November drill weekends.

For many of the Hawaii Air National Guard's nearly 2500 Airmen, the flu shot typically involves processing through queues at or inside the med group's facilities and offices. This year, however, with pandemic mitigation efforts such as physical distancing at the forefront, this was a different way to accomplish the needed annual requirement.

"This year, what we decided to do was a flu drive-thru," said Maj. Wendy Umipeg-Wurtz, 154th Medical Group chief nurse. "Members can stay in their vehicles while waiting in line and they can get their vaccines safely from us without ever having to step out of their cars."

Holding the drive-thru in the open spaces and roadways adjacent to the HIANG medical facilities offered medical personnel ample room to operate while adhering to strict COVID-19 mitigation practices.

Airmen pulling up to the medical group proceeded through a vehicle line where a team of medical personnel conducted pre-shot health evaluations. Once the pre-shot screenings were complete, those fit to proceed advanced to the final station where aerospace, medical service specialists administered the shots to biceps exposed through their windows.

"It was a great idea; I thought it was perfect actually," said Master Sgt. Paul Tan, 154th Maintenance Squadron accessories NCO-in-charge. "Everybody went through pretty fast. I didn't know what to expect, but I thought it was effortless and efficient after going through it. We should think about doing more things like this."

Primarily targeting HIANG Oahu-island-based drill-status Airmen, the drive-thru was just one of the unique methods used to accomplish the vaccinations. Through December, mobile medical teams deployed to different HIANG units located throughout the Hawaiian Islands to vaccinate additional Airmen.

According to the CDC, the flu vaccine has been shown in research studies to be the best way to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of severe flu complications. While COVID-19 pandemic prevention has forced many units to rethink how they conduct operations, requirements and standards have not necessarily changed.

"We've had to take a look at our processes to see if there was a different way we could do things," Umipeg-Wurtz said. "For the flu shot requirement, the drive-thru, as well as the mobile teams, has allowed us to maximize the number of Airmen we can vaccinate while still sticking to pandemic efforts."

Though operating in unprecedented times, as of December, the 154th Medical Group was still able to ensure more than 90 percent of HIANG Airmen have received this year's flu vaccine.

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