AVAC Spotlight: Dr. Ruth Carrico, University of Louisville’s School of Medicine

AVAC Spotlight: Ruth M. Carrico, Ph.D., DNP, APRN, CIC
Infectious diseases professor and nurse practitioner in University of Louisville’s School of Medicine

At AVAC’s June briefing, Dr. Ruth Carrico, an infectious disease professor and nurse practitioner from the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine, shared her long-standing success with drive-through influenza vaccination programs, and how they can be replicated in a COVID-19 environment to increase immunization rates.

Dr. Carrico emphasized that since the early 1990’s, great strides have been made to expand vaccine administration locations from primary care facilities and hospitals to easily accessible locations like pharmacies, workplaces, schools, and religious centers. However, despite being easier to access, the U.S. still fall well below Healthy People 2020 goals for the adult population. For example, the Healthy People objective for the influenza vaccine among the adult population is 70%, but only 43.3% of U.S. adults currently receive an influenza vaccine.

The University of Louisville started holding immunization drive-through clinics in 1994 and used those experiences to implement the largest drive-through clinic in 2009, distributing nearly 20,000 H1N1 influenza vaccines in 18 hours. Drive-through immunization clinics are an example of innovative ways to deliver care. This is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, where some people might not feel safe entering a doctor’s office or a pharmacy to receive routine, recommended immunizations.

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase and the flu season approaches, it is important to think through methods for safely distributing vaccines during a pandemic. Dr. Carrico suggested that, as we think about immunizing in the time of COVID-19, we consider social distancing practices, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), how to administer vaccines while wearing PPE, and education to combat vaccine hesitancy.

Fortunately, we can learn from the strategies COVID-19 testing centers are using to address many of these challenges. Evaluating the successes and failures of mass testing campaigns can help inform public health officials and health care providers of what we need to do to increase immunization rates for when we have a vaccine for COVID-19 but also for vaccine preventable diseases like flu.

Both the success of the University of Louisville’s drive-through immunization campaigns, and the apparent success of drive-through COVID-19 testing clinics, indicate that drive-through immunizations could be particularly effective for immunizing during the pandemic. For example, each car acts as its own isolation unit and allows for social distancing. Additionally, drive-throughs eliminate hassle and wait times for patients, and can accommodate seniors with mobility issues or physically disabled individuals.

Dr. Carrico has dedicated her career to researching vaccine preventable diseases and has found that infectious disease outbreaks often overlap with poverty. COVID-19 has reminded us of the importance of targeting campaigns to communities with the most need and where health disparities are greatest. As we continue to develop innovative methods of immunizing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Carrico reminded us that we also need to do a better job engaging populations where there are health disparities and greater health risks.