It's time to prepare for flu season — the 2013–2014 season. Because if we've learned anything from this year's epidemic (besides the importance of buying hand sanitizer by the gallon at the nearest warehouse store), it's that getting ready can't happen soon enough.
Planning and allocating resources to respond to a flu epidemic certainly are important parts of this process, but moving farther upstream to promote the vaccine deserves equal, if not more, attention. Consider this: While most of us were still slathering on sunscreen and shaking sand out of our shoes, Walgreens and Rite Aid drugstores began offering the vaccine on Aug. 6, 2012, and CVS on Aug. 20. Contrast that with the billboards going up in early January — six months later — announcing vaccine availability at hospitals and physician offices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it takes two weeks to kick in. Two weeks at what was at press time the peak of the epidemic is more than enough time for all sorts of contagious people to cough, sneeze and breathe on the unprotected.
Hospitals need to get into the vaccine game much sooner and make it much easier with temporary walk-in locations in malls and other highly trafficked areas, outreach clinics in schools, retirement homes and churches, and partnerships with major employers — places in which trustees already may play a role. School physicals should include the vaccine, and campus signage should include locations, dates, facts and, if possible, out-of-pocket costs for those covered by the area's major payers. Whether you are looking to compete with the drugstores on the front end or reduce emergency department visits on the back end, you had better get a running start.