The majority of patients who receive services at the Schenectady Free Health Clinic struggle to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. Springing for a flu shot is typically not on their list of priorities.
The federally funded Vaccines for Children provides no-cost flu shots to uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid-eligible children, but adults who want a flu shot and can’t afford one aren’t always as lucky.
“In the past, there have been vaccines made available for the clinic,” said Bill Spoylar, executive director of the Schenectady Free Health Clinic. “This year, there is no free vaccine from the [Schenectady County] Health Department.”
The clinic, which provides free medical attention to people mainly between the ages of 19 and 64, is not offering the flu shot.
“We didn’t buy any, because quite frankly, we don’t have the money to buy it. We do provide our patients with free medications, and we have enough trouble raising money for our regular medications,” he said.
County health departments are often the best place for working, uninsured adults to go for a free flu shot, said Dr. Eric Schnakenberg, family physician at Community Care Family Medicine in Clifton Park.
“If they can’t get it from the county health department, they’re kind of screwed. There’s really no [other] resource out there,” he said, noting that the cost for a flu shot at a pharmacy — about $25 — is fairly reasonable.
Schenectady County has offered free flu shots for uninsured adults at times, but there are no such programs going on this year, said county spokesman Joe McQueen. McQueen said Schenectady County does have a limited supply of free vaccines set aside for uninsured children and is currently taking appointments at the Schenectady County Public Health Clinic.
In Saratoga County, the Health Department ordered about 1,000 doses of the flu vaccine for the season, but supplies are now extremely limited, said Karen Levison, the county’s director of public health.
“My concern for Saratoga County is some of our pediatricians have run out, and of course, it’s the children that we make sure we can serve,” she said.
The Health Department is assisting pediatricians who are running short on the vaccine and is not offering flu shots to the general public.
Vaccinating children is the most important thing to do, confirmed Schnakenberg.
“The flu resides in the children, so if we had a universal policy of vaccinating all children in this country, we would not have flu outbreaks,” he said.
He also encourages pregnant mothers to get a flu shot.
The Fulton County Public Health Department has already given out all of the flu shot doses it purchased for this season, according to Denise Frederick, the public health director. Although adults are out of luck, there are still vaccines available for eligible children.
The Montgomery County Public Health Department still has flu vaccines available to the public, but they charge a fee of $26 for adults. The cost for children is based on a sliding scale depending on income, according to Supervising Public Health Nurse Cindy Christman.
Those who can’t afford a flu shot and can’t find a free one should avoid crowds and wash their hands often with antibacterial soap, Levison advised. She also recommended sanitizing telephones and computer keyboards.