Airport Clinics Bring Flu Shots to Travelers

Convenience makes it an easy option.

CHICAGO -- Your connecting flight arrives 25 minutes early. You use the extra time to:

A) Find your gate, grab a seat, and zone out until flight time.

B) Find a bar.

C) Grab something to eat.

D) Buy a gift.

E) Get a flu shot.

If you're like 62-year-old Barbara Scavullo, who found herself with some extra time at Chicago O'Hare on her way from San Francisco to a design conference recently, your choice would be the flu shot.

"This is a spur-of-the-moment thing," Scavullo said, rolling up her sleeve at a flu shot kiosk next to a candy shop in the United Airlines terminal. "Usually I'm a little casual about whether or not I get a flu shot, but this is so convenient."

So convenient, in fact, that Scavullo didn't mind paying $35 for the vaccine, a bit more than she'd have paid back home at the flu clinics at her local Walgreens or Safeway grocery store.

Right behind Scavullo, on a one-hour layover, were the Warndorfs of Cincinnati. Vicki Warndorf said that she gets her flu shots at work every year. When she saw flu shots being offered right there in the O'Hare concourse, she insisted her husband, Tom, stop for his. "Otherwise I would have had to nag longer. This was an immediate 'Yes, dear,'"

According to John Zautcke, medical director of the year-round University of Illinois at Chicago-O'Hare Medical Clinic, a lot of people are saying, "Yes, dear," to flu shots on the concourses at O'Hare.

In the past, the in-airport medical clinic posted signs letting passengers know that flu shots were available at the airport clinic. But the clinic is somewhat off the beaten path, so this year they've moved the shots to where more travelers would see them.

"We thought we could reach more people by setting up tables and chairs closer to where people are sitting around waiting for their flights," Zautcke says.

The strategy is working. This year, with the kiosks, O'Hare is administering about 2,400 shots a week vs. about 350 a week in previous years.

The four kiosks operate Sunday through Friday in Terminals 1, 2, and 3. If demand continues, the kiosks will stay open into the new year.

Growing trend

Chicago O'Hare may be the first airport where passengers can get flu shots alongside their shots of espresso, but close to a dozen other airports routinely offer them at clinics located inside the terminals or close by.

Carol Schjaerve, the nurse manager at San Francisco International Airport's SFO Medical Clinic, says in past years the nationwide shortage of flu shots extended to the airport clinic. This year, she says, it's "flush with vaccine."

The clinic will take appointments, but also will accommodate walk-ins.

Anyone who travels should get a flu shot, she says, and get it as early as possible. Flu season officially runs from December through March.

"It takes 10 to 14 days for the protection to kick in," Schjaerve says, "and when you fly, you're in this machine in the sky re-breathing all this air."

She notes that "people with the flu shouldn't be flying," but airlines don't consider that the sort of emergency that warrants a no-fee cancellation.

Saving money and time

Schjaerve and others say there are some things you can start doing now to start building up a defense and to keep from spreading your germs to others. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands a lot. Stay hydrated. Get plenty of rest. Eat well. And don't fly if you're sick.

John Barth, managing director for PRX, an audio Web distribution service based in Boston, has decided that getting a flu shot at the airport is good for his health and for his bottom line.

Although he considers air travel a health hazard "because on an airplane, germs are your fellow travelers," he admits he's usually "one of the last people to get a flu shot."

But once he was convinced that the needle-wielding women in white coats standing behind a table by a Starbucks outlet at O'Hare were actually nurses, he pulled out his credit card and rolled up his sleeve. "It saved me money by saving me time."

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend