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Major U.S. airports offer flu shots to busy travelers at the gate

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Posted: December 5, 2007 2:10 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    ATLANTA — After taking off their shoes, emptying their pockets and passing through the security checkpoints, travelers at some major U.S. airports can now roll up a sleeve and get a flu shot.
    ‘‘The convenience is great,’’ Danny Manzon, a busy, 53-year-old restaurant consultant, said after getting vaccinated Tuesday at a kiosk in front of an AirTran gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He said he had wanted to get a flu shot for three months but never had the time.
    For years, some airports have been offering flu shots to airline passengers before they cleared security. But many travelers were too afraid of missing their flights to stop.
    So this year, airports in such cities as Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Newark, N.J. and San Francisco, are setting up ‘‘airside’’ health stations close to the gates, past the security checkpoints.
    The shots typically take just a few minutes and cost $15 to $35.
    ‘‘It’s helpful being on the airside because people don’t know how long it’s going to take getting through security so they don’t want to take a risk of waiting in a medical clinic or being stuck in security and not making their plane,’’ said Maureen Zampella, director of nursing and general operations manager of Harmony Pharmacy & Health Center Inc., which is offering flu shots at the Newark airport.
    The vaccinations are seen as particularly convenient for those who travel frequently on business.
    ‘‘They don’t have time to go to the physician,’’ said Dr. Dominic Mack, chief medical officer of The AeroClinic, which offers shots from gateside kiosks in Atlanta.
    Airline passengers receiving the shots won’t be protected right away. It takes about two weeks for a shot to offer full protection.
    Getting vaccinated now offers plenty of time for the shot to take full effect before the peak flu season begins, typically after December.
    Airport health officials said eventually they may offer other vaccinations, too, as well as cholesterol tests and screening for high blood pressure.
    ‘‘We’re finding that’s where people are,’’ said Michelle Smith, spokeswoman for Denver Health, which operates a clinic at the Denver airport.
    The Atlanta airport clinic is considering offering pneumococcal vaccine once the flu season ends, based on requests from travelers approaching the kiosks. It also may offer blood pressure and cholesterol tests at the kiosks in the future, Mack said. The Denver clinic wants to offer similar services and may also address altitude sickness, Smith said.
    Last year, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport dispensed about 5,000 flu shots to passengers and employees from kiosks next to gates.
    ‘‘It went over great,’’ and the idea was expanded this year to Chicago’s Midway, said Dr. John Zautcke, medical director for the University of Illinois Medical Center at O’Hare. So far, O’Hare and Midway have vaccinated a total of about 9,500 people this year.
    ‘‘Business travelers love it,’’ Zautcke said. ‘‘They are just thanking us.’’
    Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, assistant professor of public health and medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York, says the gate vaccination programs make sense as a public health measure.
    ‘‘Anything that makes flu shots more accessible is a good thing,’’ said Hupert, who has no connection to the flu shot clinics. ‘‘It’s always helpful during normal times to try out new mechanisms (to distribute vaccine). This idea of offering vaccine in airports is actually an interesting and helpful step.’’

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