DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With COVID-19 cases on the rise and flu season just around the corner, North Texas doctors are working to battle what some call the “twindemic.”

Doctors at Parkland and UT Southwestern are tapping neighborhood teens in underserved communities to improve flu vaccination rates, saying science can only do so much.

“You can have the perfect vaccine for anything. The science can be 100% right. Doesn’t matter if you don’t reach the community,” says Dr. Kavita Bhavan, an Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at UT Southwestern and Chief Innovation Officer for Parkland. “The message matters and the messenger matters. Getting that message right and having people from the community deliver it is part of building trust.”

So over the weekend, doctors from UTSW, Parkland and their staffers planted seeds of trust in a Pleasant Grove parking lot with a free drive-up flu shot clinic.

“This is completely flipping the model on health care,” says Dr. Christiana Beveridge, an Internal Medicine Resident at UTSW. “Doctors sit in their office and wait for the patients to come to them. The only way to take care of people is to meet them where they are.”

It’s all part of a ‘Healthcare Ambassador” program that allows teens interested in medical careers one day, to begin helping their communities access care now.

“It’s a challenge, appealing to the older generation,” says Jasmine Ramirez, a senior at Cristo Rey, a Catholic college prep school in Pleasant Grove. “Many are scared about the affects.”

Ramirez has been involved in a work study program at Parkland, and jumped at the chance to help her neighbors avoid the flu.

“They want to see a familiar face and they want to see people that care about them as well,” she said.

The weekend drive thru clinic attracted about 400 patients, and doctors say every one who stays well will help in the fight against COVID-19 as the numbers once again begin to climb.

Doctors say since the symptoms of the respiratory viruses are so similar, patients may unnecessarily risk exposure just to seek care.

“It’s not perfect,” says Dr. Bhavan, of flu shot effectiveness. “But being able to tell you doctor, ‘I had flu vaccine,’ it does help us.”

Doctors are also concerned about hospital capacity heading into the winter months when the weather will force families inside, as the closer proximity will also allow germs to spread.

“I am nervous,” says Dr. Beveridge. “People are already strung really thin. It could be a hard winter.”

Another free drive-thru flu shot clinic is planned for Sunday, November 15 at South Oak Cliff High School.

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