It comes as no surprise that 2020 has been an unprecedented year, testing our ability to respond quickly and support health care workers who confront the ever-changing nature of the global Covid-19 pandemic. As colder weather approaches, there looms the additional risks of the upcoming flu season alongside the growing number of active Coronavirus cases. In an article written in the academic journal, Science, states that the influenza virus infection poses a major health threat, accounting for 3.5 million severe infections and more than 400,000 deaths globally each year (A.D. Iluliano et al., 2018). The research says that the current strategy for the development of a "universal flu vaccine" focuses on the generation of "broadly protective" antibodies, which is a different approach than previous years' flu vaccine strategy. In the past, vaccine effectiveness would vary depending on the accuracy of preseasonal predictions with the inactivated seasonal influenza vaccine generally losing its effectiveness as time passes from vaccination (Herold and Sander, 2020).
However, until a "universal flu vaccine" is created and widely available, public health officials, healthcare workers, educators, and community members are advocating for a strong turn-out for this year's flu vaccine clinics. But, building confidence in the community that taking a trip to your local doctor's office or clinic is going to present additional challenges this year as everyone is concerned not only of safety but also trying to limit possible exposure in order to not overwhelm our emergency room capacity this flu season.
So How Far Have We Come Since the Spanish Flu?
Looking back to the 1918 Spanish Flu, over a hundred years of innovation, technological, and scientific advancements have made us more prepared to combat an influenza epidemic. Back then, people had no idea what caused influenza. According to an article in the Scientific American , the word "influenza" comes from the Italian word meaning "influence," which denotes its astrological etymology that the illness was caused by the concurrence of Jupiter and Saturn. Some other theories to what caused influenza at that time was earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and rotting animal carcasses. Thankfully, in 1939 the newly invented electron microscope captured the first image of a virus and eventually, scientists were able to isolate the influenza virus. Now, we know not only the genetic code of the influenza virus and the possible mutations, but also the outer protein structure and how it affects the lungs’ cells. The evolution and progression of scientific and medical advancements in the last century is nothing short of incredible.
During the Spanish Flu of 1918, doctors tried to treat the outbreak, but without modern medicine's knowledge, these efforts all fell short. Some common treatments were bloodletting, tree bark, mercury, and enemas—all ineffective methods to fighting a viral infection. Although our current treatment may not be as stomach-turning, it's still a guessing game for scientists who are tasked with updating the structure of the flu vaccine from previous years' data and prediction measurements.
So, how do we respond to this year's extraordinary challenges that pose major risks to our communities?
Make the Flu Vaccine a Priority This Season
First, consider getting the flu vaccine earlier this year. Robert Redfield, MD, current director for the CDC in a recent interview with the JAMA Network says that "...this fall, nothing can be more important that to try to increase the American public's decision to embrace the flu vaccine with confidence." In years past, less than 50% of the American public has received the flu vaccination which has resulted in serious influxes of flu cases around the country. Dr. Redfield remains hopeful that the added precautions brought about by the coronavirus, like wearing a mask, washing your hands, not touching your face, and following social distancing guidelines, will all positively impact this year's flu season. However, with many symptoms of the novel coronavirus and the flu being shared, Dr. Redfield as well as other health officials warn the American public to be diligent about slowing the rate of active flu cases by being proactive in receiving the flu vaccine this season.
Perhaps you might even recall the impact of the 2018 flu season on California hospital and emergency room care providers at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. Photos of a "surge tent" or a "triage tent" were quickly surfacing on news sites around the country as healthcare workers responded by setting up tents in hospital parking lots to care for patients. The Los Angeles Times covered the impact that California hospitals were facing in 2018, calling it a "war zone" of flu patients. In response to triaging so many flu patients, hospitals set up what resembled giant, brown camping tents to treat flu patients in a so-called "surge tent" which are typically intended for major national disasters.
Envision New Methods of Receiving the Flu Vaccine
This year, however, with the added impact of the coronavirus, and the need for more mobile Covid 19 testing, has brought about a new strategy for combatting the flu by creating portable flu tents. With overall public health and disease control at the epicenter of keeping our communities safe, it has never been more important for us to not only embrace the idea of mobile vaccination, but also the use of a medical tent to help limit the possible exposure of the coronavirus and flu. Since flu symptoms and the coronavirus symptoms have a lot of overlap, making it that much harder for patients to know what they have before going for a visit to the doctor, emergency room officials are urging flu vaccine clinics to consider outdoor or drive-thru alternatives to the traditional indoor services.
Second, we all need to be open to radically different ways of receiving flu vaccines. Here at TentCraft, we have responded to the call of healthcare professionals and public health officials in their search for an outdoor, socially distanced solution. With the likelihood of the flu vaccine being in higher demand this season, likely warranting larger gatherings of patients, it’s incredibly important that the benefit of getting the flu vaccine does not result in higher potential for Coronavirus exposure. This is where the idea of a drive-thru medical tent or a mobile flu tent presents a unique opportunity to support the ongoing efforts of our medical professionals and emergency room staff. By having patients contained to their own vehicles and keeping the vaccination clinic outdoors, this eliminates the potential large congregation inside clinics, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies.
At the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, TentCraft quickly shifted our production from the event industry to supply resources for the medical industry through mobile covid 19 testing tents, drive-thru screening, and pop-up infirmaries. As a 100% American Made manufacturer, we are able to provide not only high-quality products but also work with each client to customize their solution to their exact specifications.
We’ve created solutions for several medical groups, such as Munson Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente Health Systems, Mercy Health, Beaumont, the Florida Department of Health, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Each client wanted high-quality, long-term, and mobile solutions with the expectation that they would transition their Covid 19 testing tents into flu vaccine clinics and eventually, when available, Covid 19 vaccination clinics. We’ve built more than 250 quick-deploy custom tent configurations from drive-thru screening, pre-screening/patient check-in, triage, patient overflow, decontamination, portable workstations, negative pressure anterooms, and mobile flu vaccine clinics as medical and public health officials begin to plan for the colder months ahead. Although we may not have known how 2020 would shift our production, we are here to help our communities in response to the growing challenges ahead.