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Denver Doctor Explains How The City's Efforts To Provide Flu Vaccines


Researchers say they're getting closer to developing a safe and effective vaccine against coronavirus. The CDC has told state and city health departments to have vaccination plans in place by October 1. Many local agencies are concerned about their ability to convince people to get the vaccine, let alone store, administer and track millions of doses.

The city of Denver has decided to do a test run with the flu vaccine. They'll send teams into schools and do mass flu vaccinations to try and reach as many people as possible. Dr. Judith Shlay is associate director of Denver Public Health and joins us now. Dr. Shlay, thanks so much for being with us.

JUDITH SHLAY: Thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: What are you hoping to both accomplish and learn from this big push to vaccinate people against the flu?

SHLAY: We want to just develop a coordinated approach where we can actually provide flu vaccination focusing on at-risk communities who may not have access to the vaccine. So we wanted to really develop a process where we could get people vaccinated as quickly as possible and then use that mechanism to then be able to scale to the large effort that we're going to need to provide COVID-19 vaccine.

SIMON: Dr. Shlay, what are some of the reasons that the vaccination rates are so low right now, and I gather especially in Colorado?

SHLAY: So vaccination rates have been low. We were actually doing better. We focused a lot on our 4- to 6-year-olds for their measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, and we were doing better. And then the COVID-19 pandemic started, and so then people weren't going to the providers, and we weren't doing in-school programming, and we lost a lot of momentum.

SIMON: Tell us about some of the ways you're trying to reach what are inevitably called hard-to-reach people?

SHLAY: We're already connecting with our shelter services to ensure that we can get vaccines there. We want to use the Denver Human Services, and we're working on a way to be able to vaccinate people who are showing up already, even though they're trying not to have people come. These are people that are coming, need services, and so we can then vaccinate them.

And an idea that I had which I think is important is trying to use our Parks and Recs areas. We have Parks and Recs facilities all over the city and county of Denver, and so we can develop pop-up flu clinics that would be throughout the city, you know, and then get good communication about - from the city, from our Denver Public Health website to share where these are so people can come, make it convenient in timing. It's going to have to be on weekends. It's going to have to be at night because people - the people we're trying to reach are people that are potentially essential workers working through the day, construction workers, restaurant workers, hotel workers. And the big thing, I think, is being flexible about where we do this.

SIMON: I know, Dr. Shlay, this might put you on the spot, but Pfizer said that it is developing one of the two vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they're planning to distribute beginning in early November. Do you have any reservations about a vaccine developed this quickly?

SHLAY: Well, you know, the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 was developed in five months. It was safe. It was effective. And that was done, I think, well. I mean, we learned a lot from it, and we're learning from those lessons that what we need to do differently in this time around. But I would say in terms of how I look at it, we have a number of checks and balances in place - data safety monitoring groups, the FDA - that will evaluate this vaccine. And so I trust that we will not put anything out into the community that is not a safe vaccine.

SIMON: Dr. Judith Shlay, a family physician and is associate director of Denver Public Health. Thank you so much for being with us.

SHLAY: And thank you for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.