Image: Flu shot at airport
John Bazemore  /  AP
Business traveler Danny Manzon, of Jacksonville, Fla., gets a flu shot from Stephanie Parks of The Aero Clinic at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Dec. 4, 2007.
updated 12/5/2007 2:43:51 PM ET 2007-12-05T19:43:51

After taking off shoes, pulling change out of pockets and going through security checkpoints, passengers now can roll up their sleeves and get a flu shot at gateside kiosks and health stations in some major U.S. airports.

Although health clinics at many U.S. airports have offered flu shots for years in public areas outside security checkpoints, officials found that few passengers want to risk missing their flights by getting vaccinated before clearing the checkpoints.

The shots typically take just a few minutes and cost $15 to $35. So far, the airports in the five major cities have given out about 15,000 shots this season.

"It's helpful being on the airside because people don't know how long it's going to take getting through security so they don't want to take a risk of waiting in a medical clinic or being stuck in security and not making their plane," said Maureen Zampella, director of nursing and general operations manager of a service that is offering flu shots at the Newark airport.

Shots are available to most flyers. Exceptions include people with allergies to chicken eggs and feathers or thimerosal, a preservative in flu shots and contact lens solution. Most of the gateside clinics are in domestic concourses, but clinic officials say they provide service to passengers who connect to other domestic and international flights.

"It's a viable option ... especially for business travelers. They don't have time to go to the physician," says Dr. Dominic Mack, chief medical officer of The AeroClinic, which has two flu shot kiosks in Concourse C of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. "This offers another option for the population to get their flu shots."

Test your IQBut passengers taking the shots won't be protected right away. Those vaccinated develop some immunity to the flu virus after three or four days. It takes about two weeks for a flu shot to offer full protection.

Being vaccinated now offers plenty of time for the shot to fully take effect before the peak flu season begins in the U.S., typically after December, Zampella said.

Danny Manzon of Jacksonville, Fla. wanted to get a flu shot for three months but the busy restaurant consultant never had the time to get vaccinated. So he jumped at the chance to get one from a kiosk near his airline gate at the Atlanta airport.

"The convenience is great," Manzon, 53, said after getting a flu shot on Tuesday from The AeroClinic kiosk, located in front of an AirTran Airways gate in Concourse C.

More than just flu shots in future
Ultimately, airport health clinics may offer more than flu shots to busy passengers near gates. Health officials say they're considering other kiosk-based services in the future, including more vaccinations and tests for high blood pressure or cholesterol.

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"We're finding that's where people are," said Michelle Smith, spokeswoman for Denver Health, which operates the Medical Clinic at DIA, or Denver International Airport. "Especially if you're in an airport where a large percentage of our travelers are there for connecting flights, you want to be able to offer that convenience."

The Atlanta airport clinic is considering offering pneumococcal vaccine once the flu season ends, based on requests from travelers approaching the kiosks. It also may offer blood pressure and cholesterol tests at the kiosks in the future, Mack said. The Denver clinic wants to offer similar services and may also address altitude sickness, Smith said.

Last year, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport offered about 5,000 flu shots to airport passengers and employees from kiosks next to gates.

"We didn't know if it was going to be successful. It went over great and we asked the (Chicago) Department of Aviation this year to do kiosks full-time" at O'Hare and Chicago Midway Airport, said Dr. John Zautcke, medical director for the University of Illinois Medical Center at O'Hare. "Business travelers love it. They are just thanking us."

Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, assistant professor of public health and medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York, says the gate vaccination programs make sense as a public health measure.

"Anything that makes flu shots more accessible is a good thing," said Hupert, who has no connection to the flu shot clinics. "It's always helpful during normal times to try out new mechanisms (to distribute vaccine). This idea of offering vaccine in airports is actually an interesting and helpful step."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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