With an eye on the ongoing pandemic, Pen Bay Medical Center, Waldo County General Hospital and Belfast Public Health Nursing Association are making it easier and safer to get a flu shot.

In a change of format, they have combined to schedule 40 drive-thru flu clinics at several locations in Knox and Waldo counties through Dec. 1. The drive-thru setting will allow clinical staff to take extra measures to protect patients and themselves against COVID-19.

Underscoring the importance of getting a flu shot this year, PBMC and WCGH have opened their clinics to the public. The Belfast Public Health Nursing clinics are open to adult Belfast residents only.

“As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, getting a flu shot is more important than ever,” said Dr. Mark Eggena, chief medical officer at PBMC.

Influenza kills 20,000 to 40,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The very young, the elderly and those with underlying conditions are the most vulnerable. Flu shots are a safe and proven way for people to protect themselves against infection.

Eggena stressed that the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19. However, preventing flu infections will allow hospitals, schools and businesses to better focus on navigating the pandemic.

One reason for this is that the flu and COVID-19 have some similar symptoms. If the flu flourishes, medical staff will have to don full protective gear and treat those with flu symptoms as possible COVID cases. In addition to straining COVID testing facilities, people sick with flu or seasonal bugs could face quarantine until COVID test results come back negative. This in turn could disrupt school schedules and businesses.

There is another reason people should want to get a flu shot during the pandemic. Flu may be an underlying condition that increases the risk of death for those who also become infected with COVID-19, said Dr. Kent Clark, chief medical officer at WCGH.

“We believe a person can become infected with both viruses at the same time, and we believe that elevates the risk significantly,” Dr. Clark said. “Fortunately, people can avoid this scenario simply by getting a flu shot. It’s easy and it’s safe and I urge everyone to do so.”

The drive-thru flu clinics have been designed to be user friendly, and no appointments are necessary. Those seeking a flu shot need only follow the signs at the location of their choice. These will lead to a drive-thru canopy where clinical staff wearing personal protective equipment will greet them.

All clinics are for people seven years of age and older except as noted below.

At PBMC, clinics will be held on the main campus in Rockport Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m. through Oct. 28. Clinics at Waldoboro Family Medicine, 27 Mill St., Waldoboro, will be held on Monday, Sept. 28, and Monday, Oct. 26, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

PBMC is also offering a family friendly option at Pen Bay Family Medicine, 7 Madelyn Lane, Rockport, on three Saturdays. These drive-thru clinics, which will have vaccines for children 6 months of age and older and for their families, will be held Sept. 26, Oct. 24 and Nov. 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

At WCGH, clinics will be held at 125 Northport Ave., across the street from the main hospital building, Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon through Oct. 29.

Clinics will also be held at the hospital’s four regional health centers, including Arthur Jewel Community Health Center in Brooks (Thursday, Sept. 10, 1 to 4 p.m.), Donald S. Walker Health Center in Liberty (Thursday, Sept. 17, 1 to 4 p.m.), Lincolnville Regional Health Center (Thursday, Sept. 24, 1 to 4 p.m.) and Stockton Springs Regional Health Center (Thursday, Oct. 1, 1 to 4 p.m.).

When going to a clinic at PBMC or WCGH, please bring your insurance card with you. Those visiting the drive-thru service without insurance will be billed a nominal fee.

The BPHN flu clinics for Belfast adult residents are free of charge. The clinics will be held at the Waldo County Shrine Club, 20 Northport Ave., Belfast, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 3 to 6 p.m., and Wednesday, Sept. 30, 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

BPHN will also hold clinics at the Belfast Boat House, 34 Commercial St., Belfast, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 3 to 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Oct. 27, noon to 5 p.m.; Wednesday, Oct. 28, 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Nov. 10, 3 to 6 p.m.; and Tuesday, Dec. 1, 3 to 6 p.m.

In addition to the clinics, patients of PBMC and WCGH can also receive flu shots from their primary care providers as well as from specialty care providers.