More people than ever before showed up this year at the annual drive-thru clinics for flu vaccine shots, according to the local health department.

Similar numbers of people showed up for vaccinations at the Arkansas City and Winfield one-day clinics for a combined total of 420 people, said Thomas Langer, the Cowley County public health officer.

That’s a 33 percent increase from last year’s 316 combined total.

“In previous years we had noticeable lulls during the day and also peak periods,” Langer said. “This year cars were lined up early, and we actually began giving vaccinations earlier that the posted start times as we began as soon as we were set up to do so. And we had cars in line even after the posted ending times. We finished everyone that came out to be vaccinated.”

This year, health officials noticed more people coming from outside the area, including several Oklahoma residents at the Agri-Business Building site in Ark City. And in Winfield at the fairgrounds, several folks came from Sumner and Butler counties.

This health department this year set up a mobile office of sorts to quickly scan IDs and other data for health records, which Langer said would be helpful when the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine occurs.

“The record keeping will be of great importance because we have indications that the vaccine will be a two-shot series roughly 28 days apart,” Langer said. “Providers of the vaccine will have to track its distribution in order to follow up properly and determine how many people have received it.”

He added that to return to “normal,” 50 percent or more of the population needs to have immunity.

Langer said that typically each year less than 30 percent of the county’s residents get a flu vaccine. He hopes to increase that by at least 5 percent this year.

There are many similarities between flu and COVID-19, and identifying which is which will be daunting, Langer said.

With the flu, the concern is with the very young and the elderly. The 2017-18 flu season was the worst in many years, he added, with an estimated 35 percent of the population falling ill and six deaths — all elderly — associated with it.

“We know that if we can suppress influenza this year then we will be more successful at also dealing with additional cases of COVID,” Langer said. “What we hope happens is the increased awareness of virus transmission will cause people to better protect themselves from flu this year as they are spread in a nearly identical fashion.”

The health department updated its COVID figures Thursday, showing 422 total cases, and increase of 24 since Monday. Active cases were still under review, according to the department website, but Langer said via email that they are dealing with about 40 cases.

Langer also said he was looking into why the state health department showed 464 cases for Cowley County.

Some of those are attributed to the 28 reported inmate cases at the Winfield Correctional Facility. The others might be due to a tracking system issue at the state level that has inflated the county’s numbers by 13, he said.

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