Nova Scotia is offering drive-thru COVID-19 and flu vaccines at Dartmouth General Hospital, but New Brunswick has no plans to provide a similar service.
The Nova Scotia health authority says up to four people inside a vehicle can be vaccinated during a single appointment. They must all be over the age of 12.
One person can make the appointment for all four people. The drive-thru operates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Harold Taylor, Nova Scotia Health's director of the central zone's COVID-19 response, said the vaccination drive-thru has been "very well received," with appointments booking up since it was announced earlier this week.
People are "very happy to see … this service," he said.
"There's folks so far that are telling us that … with mobility issues [or sensory issues], this makes it much easier for them to book an appointment and to be able to attend that, as opposed to going into a normal clinic or local pharmacy."
Harold Taylor, director of COVID-19 response for Nova Scotia Health's central zone, says the Dartmouth General Hospital drive-thru was used for COVID-19 vaccinations before as part of mass immunization clinic in 2021. (Submitted by Harold Taylor)
There's no parking, no navigating through buildings, no standing in line, and no contact with other patients.
If the high uptake continues, Taylor said the service might be extended to include Saturdays or Sundays — "again to be more accessible to the general public."
That was one of the biggest drivers behind the decision to offer the service, he said.
Scaling back PCR testing drive-thru
Dartmouth General Hospital also had all the required infrastructure and resources already in place, said Taylor.
While most health zones closed their COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing drive-thrus, Dartmouth General switched one of its winterized drive-thru units over to blood collection in 2021, which has proven "quite popular," he said, and maintained the other one for testing.
Testing numbers have, however, started to decrease. The current volume of booked and drop-in PCR tests do not support the need for a stand-alone testing centre, said Taylor.
Drive-thru blood collection continues at Dartmouth General Hospital, says Taylor. (Dave Irish/CBC)
"We will be looking to integrate that service within N.S.H. as many other provinces and locations have also done," he said, noting the drive-thru, constructed out of shipping containers in the parking lot of the adjacent business, Auction Advantage, was intended to be temporary.
But "while these [drive-thrus] are still up and running, at least until the end of fiscal year '24, we figured we could capitalize on it and flip over some of those services to be able to do the vaccine clinic," with PCR testing now on alternating days.
"The transition was pretty seamless."
Helps eliminate barriers
Haley Flaro, executive director of Ability New Brunswick, which helps people with mobility disabilities navigate the community and be as independent as possible, loves the idea of drive-thrus for vaccination and testing. They help eliminate barriers, she said.
"Many [people] decide against services due to lack of accessible parking, steep ramps, lack of curb cuts at drop-offs," among other reasons, said Flaro.
Haley Flaro, executive director of Ability New Brunswick, says drive-thru services provide an accessible option for people with mobility issues. (Radio-Canada)
A drive-thru is also a "quiet option for those with sensory disabilities or mental health difficulties," she said.
In addition, it "reduces the risk of catching colds, the flu and other infections in populated medical facilities."
N.B. sees no need for drive-thru
New Brunswick sees no need for drive-thru vaccines, according to Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard.
"As there are ample appointments and vaccines available for New Brunswickers to roll up their sleeves and get their COVID-19 and influenza vaccination, Public Health is not considering any changes to the way the service is offered to the public at this time," he said in an email Monday.
Appointments for COVID-19 and flu vaccines are available at participating pharmacies across the province in the online scheduler, as well as at pharmacies who offer appointments but not through the online scheduler, said Hatchard.
The flu shot is also available through primary-care providers, such as physicians, nurse practitioners and Public Health nurses, and at Public Health offices for children between the ages of six months to four years and 11 months, he said.
N.S. Health to evaluate model
Taylor said "there's certainly value" in offering drive-thrus, particularly for the type of patient population that can be best served by these types of clinics.
"I know that as we do our evaluation that's going to feed into how we do future planning around some of this stuff."
We're always going to be looking to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of these types of services, particularly across other service delivery. — Harold Taylor, Nova Scotia Health, central zone director of COVID-19 response
The Dartmouth General vaccination drive-thru is not a pilot, per se, he said, but Nova Scotia Health is interested in exploring what else the drive-thru model could be used for.
"We're always going to be looking to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of these types of services, particularly across other service delivery," said Taylor.
"So having these kind of designs set up so that we can kind of flip the service from blood collection to testing strategies — whether that be, you know, flu, measles or even immunization. It's having that flexibility and adaptability to be able to make some shifts.
"That's a huge positive piece of what we've been able to see in this particular design."
Pop-up clinics are another option
Taylor noted drive-thrus aren't the only option. Nova Scotia Public Health also offers pop-up clinics in various communities. Although these mobile clinics are usually held in community centres and fire halls, they'll often accommodate people who are unable to get out of their vehicles, he said.
"So there's other ways to be able to do some of the similar, I guess, service-delivery models."
For the Dartmouth General drive-thru, located behind the hospital on Mt. Hope Avenue, people can book an appointment online or by calling 1-833-797-7772.
Anyone who has had a previous reaction to immunization, such as fainting or anaphylaxis, should not use the drive-thru option, the health authority advises.
Large trucks, high-sided vehicles or motorcycles are not permitted. Clinical staff must be able to reach people's arms to administer the shots while standing outside the vehicle.
People cannot leave their vehicle during the appointment and no pets are not allowed, only registered service animals.