From April, a drive through COVID-19 testing location at Alario Center. On Saturday, the state will be distributing free flu vaccines there. An LDH official told The Lens that this year’s vaccination program will serve as a dry run for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

The Louisiana Department of Health will be running free flu vaccination clinics this coming week in the New Orleans area, including a clinic run in partnership with New Orleans’ Health Department. 

The  flu vaccines will be distributed at 17 different locations across the state over the coming week. In the New Orleans area, injections will be available on Saturday at the John A. Alario Sr. Event Center near Westwego, and on Monday at Audubon Zoo, in partnership with the city of New Orleans.

The flu shots will be free to the recipient, and no pre registration is required.

“You’re going to drive up, and you’re not going to exit your car. We will take your insurance card if you have one, and if you don’t have one, you can still participate. You’re going to roll down your window, roll up your sleeves, and you’re going to get a flu vaccine,” said Frank Welch, the medical director of the LDH’s Bureau of Community Preparedness and Immunization.

This year’s flu vaccine appears to be well-matched to the strain of flu that will circulate, based on early evidence from the southern hemisphere, where flu season comes in July and August, said Welch. Welch added that the flu vaccine distribution could help the state model how it will distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. 

“No one wants to see a bad flu year with a bad COVID year,” he said. “No one knows what that could be. So you’re going to get protected against the flu, but you’re also going to get a real world experience about one of the possible mechanisms [by which] the COVID-19 vaccine will become available.”

The state of Louisiana has submitted a draft plan for distributing COVID vaccines to the CDC for approval, which prioritizes frontline healthcare workers for the first doses. Several vaccines are in late-stage trials, although they are unlikely to be approved for emergency use until this winter.

The Louisiana Department of Health’s Immunization Program conducts mass vaccination exercises annually with the explicit goal of preparing for a pandemic situation. In years past, the state has distributed more than 3,500 flu shots in a single day.

This year’s preparations are different because of COVID, he said. “A lot of times we did that inside school gymnasiums, and convention centers, where lots of people could come in and stand in line. We never really had a mass vaccination exercise where social distancing was important.”

The “vast majority” of vaccination clinics throughout the state will be drive-through only, he said, presenting new challenges. “To set up one of these takes traffic control, and security, and signage. And lots of people–vaccinators, documentors, security, and emergency response.”

The city of New Orleans is currently looking for volunteers to help staff its vaccination events through the New Orleans Medical Reserve Corps and the NOLA Ready Volunteer Corps.

At the same time, teams that had been conducting targeted COVID testing at nursing homes and other congregate care facilities are transitioning to become mobile vaccination units, he said.

The Department of Health plans to deploy those units to areas that have high risk of COVID infection and mortality, and that may be unable to access drive up testing.

Vaccination sites

Jefferson Parish
Saturday Oct. 24, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
2000 Segnette Blvd., Westwego
Drive through only

New Orleans
Monday Oct. 26, 1PM to 6PM (or until 1000 vaccinations are distributed)
6500 Magazine St.
Drive through, but walkers and bikers welcome
Anyone over 6 months old