Safeguarding Seniors with Free Flu Shots in Houston, TX

Southern  | November 12, 2020
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The Tzu Chi Southern Regional Office provides free flu shots via drive-thru in Houston, TX. Photo / Roger Lin

Video by Jerry Lee
Written by Jean Hsu
Translated by Penny Liu
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

With autumn’s arrival comes the anticipation of the 2020 flu season. According to CDC guidelines, all are recommended to get their flu vaccines this year to help relieve the strain on healthcare systems currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. To offer greater protection to Houston, TX seniors, the Tzu Chi Southern Regional Office organized free flu shots to be administered via drive-thru on September 27, 2020.

Around this time last year, Tzu Chi’s medical volunteers had provided free flu shots at their autumn health fair. Because of the pandemic, this year’s health fair had been cancelled. To still offer immunization for strands of 2020 influenza viruses, volunteers thought of offering the same service except through drive-thru format in the parking lot of Tzu Chi Southern Region’s office building. For those arriving without a vehicle, there’d be a special walk-in station. These measures would help lower the risk of anyone attending of contracting COVID-19.

In total, 61 Houston residents received a flu shot. In addition, volunteers distributed masks to all who came, totalling 470 pieces of free PPE for attendees.

For precautionary purposes, all volunteers began their day at 8:30 AM with a temperature check and a COVID-19 questionnaire. From there, they were split into teams and briefed on their duties. Those working on registration were to ensure that intake forms were fully complete. This was especially important for the walk-in station, because many seniors coming from nearby apartments would need extra help filling out their forms.

An hour before the start, there was already a line of cars. To expedite the process, volunteers passed out forms to those waiting in their vehicles and began assisting those arriving at the walk-in station.

Care recipients arrive for the walk-in station. Photo/Roger Lin

Reducing Threats to Health for the Senior Population

As each vehicle pulled up one by one, Tzu Chi medical team volunteers confirmed the information on the intake forms. Then they administered the flu shot while care recipients stayed in their vehicles. During the pandemic, drive-thru services have been widely used across Tzu Chi activities, including food distributions, for COVID-19 antibody tests, and, now, for flu shots.

Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director Taishan Huang thanked Dr. Samuel Chen, HEB Pharmacy and the volunteers who participated in the event.

Because of the coronavirus, we cannot serve the public inside the Jing Si Hall, but our volunteers and members of TIMA still organized today's drive-thru event and helped residents from our community to get free flu shots.

Taishan Huang, Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director
Abtv 55.4 Houston, a Vietnamese-language television station in Houston, TX, interviews Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director Taishan Huang (left). Photo/Roger Lin

Dr. Samuel Chen, the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Director in Houston, explained that this year’s flu shot is a little different from previous years. Because of the pandemic, this year’s influenza vaccine came out earlier. Even though influenza and the new coronavirus come from different viral families, both attack the respiratory system. Therefore, it’s imperative to get vaccinated this year to avoid the confusion between the two this flu season.

This winter, the flu and coronavirus prevention are interconnected. So if we can get the flu shot earlier, we can lower the risk of being infected by the coronavirus.

Dr. Samuel Chen, TIMA Director, Houston

Guarding Senior's Health in the Community

Tzu Chi Southern Region’s Medical Mission Team Lead, Shiowzui Chang said that the symptoms of the common flu and of the coronavirus are similar. Without testing, it can be very difficult to distinguish between the two. Since flu vaccinations only last for six months, getting vaccinated around this time of year can provide protection from certain types of influenza through the winter.

Life’s most valuable gift is a healthy body; more valuable yet is following the right direction.

Jing Si Aphorism by Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Taishan Huang, Tzu Chi Southern Region Executive Director (right) presents a thank you letter to Pharmacist Stephen An (seated). Photo/Roger Lin

Thanks to the help of 21 volunteers, three pharmacists, four nurses and one doctor, the event was a success. Pharmacist Stephen An has volunteered at Tzu Chi’s health fairs for many years and this year, he brought along 2-3 students to help. Dr. An himself greeted seniors and explained that the flu shot they’d receive would be of a higher dosage and was suited for elders (ages 65 and older). He expressed his happiness to help seniors particularly because the demand for the vaccine is so high.

We are thankful to all those who helped and those who we have served.

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