As they'd done for more than 10 years, Beatrice and Orville Zastrow drove to the doctor yesterday for their annual flu shots. For the first time ever, they got them without getting out of their vehicle. "Just relax your arm," nurse Linda McClain said, leaning into the Zastrows' silver Mercedes Benz SUV, which had pulled in, pit stop-style, under a white tent in front of Kaiser Permanente Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville.
A minute later they were done. Beatrice, 77, and Orville, 88 were two of 226 Kaiser clients who received drive-through flu shots yesterday outside the clinic. There will be more of the same scheduled today -- and the program is expected to continue on each of the next four weekends. The program is open to Kaiser Permanente clients throughout Maryland, the District and Virginia.The drivers pulling up yesterday didn't have to get out in the rain and walk. They liked the idea of not being coughed on in a waiting room. They could listen to their car stereos as they filled out paperwork. About one-third of the clients, said nurse Ron Chubin, have uncorked different versions of the same joke: "Can I have fries with that?"
Since the program began two weeks ago, nurses have given shots (free to Kaiser clients) to about 1,600 people, the company said. A company spokeswoman, Amy Nosal, said the drive-through shots were patterned after a similar Kaiser program in Colorado. She said the company had never tried it before in the D.C. area.
Recipients seemed to enjoy themselves yesterday, especially those who said that last year they had been tangled up in two-hour flu shot waits at another Kaiser site.
Through this weekend, Kaiser Permanente was adhering to federal guidelines and limiting its early shots to people who are considered high risk for flu complications. They included those 65 years and older or people suffering from asthma, diabetes, lung problems or heart problems. Next week, Kaiser will open the drive-through shots to all its clients.
The Zastrows, who have been married for 55 years, didn't know they'd have the drive-through option until after arriving and being directed through a bunch of orange pylons routing traffic toward the tents.
After they pulled up, a nurse asked Beatrice to hold a bandage while she administered the shot into the elderly woman's other shoulder. The whole process was so quick that, one minute later, Beatrice had time to entertain a question about the best way to keep a marriage going. Turning to her husband, Beatrice asked: "What's the secret, Orville?"
The retired electrical engineer, who grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, paused, then said: "Enjoy life and behave yourself."
Among others pulling up were Steve and Holly Mikulski, who work in the Montgomery County school system.
"Okay, you ready?" Chubin asked Holly, leaning into the passenger side of a red Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Another couple, Jan and Ron Lavoie, made it through the drive-through within a few minutes. Waiting in their car, they seemed calm. "We seem to associate drive-throughs with faster service," said Ron Lavoie, a retired meteorologist who had worked for the National Weather Service. "Part is psychological."