Family physician, Dr. Lana Fehr, wasn’t hesitant to “take it outside” at her western-themed Arrowwood Medical Clinic.
It simply made sense “to jab”—or vaccinate—those who booked appointments for their COVID-19 inoculation in her clinic’s outdoor parking lot in the community of about 200 residents a half-hour drive north of Vulcan.
Dr. Fehr said the drive-thru concept came down to logistics. With limited staff at her clinic, and the neighbouring Arrowwood Pharmacy, it was a quicker way to deliver the vaccination.
“We were trying to wrap our heads around how we could do it,” she explained, noting inviting people indoors for the shot would mean staff had to do extra cleaning between clinic appointments.
The time required for that extra cleaning would limit the number of immunizations that could be administered to six per day at most.
“I know, in the [United States], they’ve been [vaccinating] in stadiums where they had [people] driving through.… I figured it was kind of the only way, so we designed it from scratch [and] … we just created a vaccine program ourselves.”
To offer the drive-thru, the forward-thinking physician and pharmacist, Basil Akalonu, joined forces. The clinic’s manager booked appointments, the receptionist was enlisted to direct traffic, Akalonu prepped the doses, and Dr. Fehr did the injections. Even Dr. Fehr’s 11-year-old daughter and teenage son helped out on weekends. Akalonu also recruited help from a nearby business.
Sometimes people are not very comfortable in medical settings, so people seem to like that part of [the drive-thru]. It’s fast, and they don’t have to wait very long. People seem to like being in their own space, like their own vehicle.
-Dr. Lana Fehr, Arrowwood Clinic physician
The Arrowwood drive-thru opened in early May with about 100 vaccinations being done weekly at its height. Each inoculation—including paperwork—takes about one minute.
“We’ll keep it up as long as we have demand,” said Dr. Fehr, noting she’s immunized locals, as well as people who were happy to drive from Calgary and other surrounding communities.
“It might sound weird, but I like going outside and giving vaccinations to happy people. It’s kind of a nice way to break up the day,” she said, noting the extra traffic in town has also given area businesses a welcome boost.
With vaccine availability fluctuating from week to week, “there’s been a lot of flexibility required,” Dr. Fehr said of the collaborative effort between the clinic and pharmacy.
“That’s one of the things that in rural communities we are well positioned to do, because we’re not a big machine, … we could kind of bend and twist and change and adjust as we needed to.”
People are just very grateful and happy to be doing their part. It really just makes them feel a lot safer. Being able to get the second shot … is a pretty big deal.
-Dr. Lana Fehr, a physician at the Arrowwood Medical Clinic
Another challenge with the Pfizer vaccine is the fact it must be administered within six hours of preparation. Dr. Fehr packs up any prepared leftovers (each vial holds six doses) at the end of the clinic day and puts out an urgent call out to anyone who can make it to her home porch within the appropriate amount of time.
Back at the drive-thru, operating hours fluctuate depending on when the doses arrive. Appointments are booked after her clinic’s regular hours and for 1.5 hours on Saturdays to reach those who can’t make it during work hours.
“People are just very grateful and happy to be doing their part,” she said. “It really just makes them feel a lot safer. Being able to get the second shot … is a pretty big deal.”
Later this week, Dr. Fehr will take the vaccination clinic on the road to immunize students at the rurally-based Wheatland Crossing School in hopes of catching teachers, students, and community members in the Standard area that may have put off getting vaccinated.
For patients who have been on the fence about whether to take the shot, Dr. Fehr takes time to share her medical knowledge without passing judgement.
“I always say to patients, ‘I’m not trying to convince you; do whatever it is that you want. I’m a resource and I’m happy to explain the science to you in more detail. It [may] help you to understand it, and I just don’t want you to be afraid of [the vaccine].’
“A lot of my patients just didn’t have the information [and], once they have it, they’re very happy,” she said, adding that nearly 100 per cent of those conversations have resulted in people opting for the shot.
The pop-up drive-thru also resonates with people and seems to lessen anxiety.
“Sometimes people are not very comfortable in medical settings, so people seem to like that part of [the drive-thru]. It’s fast, and they don’t have to wait very long. People seem to like being in their own space, like their own vehicle.”
Dr. Fehr, noted that, during spring seeding time, it wasn’t unusual to have farmers in work coveralls rolling up their sleeves. Even those who aren’t able to join the Arrowwood queue can still get the immunization, she simply walks over to the nearby road where they park.
“The other day, I had a guy with his cows and his trailer pulled over [and the] cows were mooing. We get that kind of thing quite a bit where … somebody is on their way to whatever with their trailer.”