ST. GEORGE – Cars were lined up in the northern part of the Red Cliffs Mall parking lot Wednesday as drivers and passengers waited to get flu vaccinations.
Together with community partners and volunteers, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, or SWUPHD, held its eighth annual Washington County Flu Shootout at the mall. Many people were able to get shots without having to leave their vehicles as they were given drive-thru vaccination service, while others went inside the mall where a small clinic area had been set up.
“For a lot of people, this has become an annual tradition – especially for our older folks,” Dave Heaton, SWUPHD public information officer, said.
The flu shootout tends to draw between 1,200-1,500 people each year, he said.
The health department usually starts seeing flu cases appear in the fall, with the flu season peaking in early spring. It is currently unknown whether or not the pending season is expected to be mild or severe. Regardless, health officials encourage everyone to get a flu shot.
“It’s very important,” Dr. Dave Blodgett, SWUPDH director, said. “The no. 1 infectious disease killer remains the flu. Secondary is pneumonia.”
The flu kills approximately 30,000 people in the United States each year, Blodgett said.
People considered most susceptible to the flu are seniors and the very young – older than 65 and younger than 6 – and people with chronic health conditions who have weakened immune systems. Even if a person isn’t considered high risk when it comes to the disease, Heaton said, they should get the shot anyway.
“We also encourage anyone to get (the vaccination) because you can, in turn, protect those people you’re around,” Heaton said.
Blodgett reiterated the need to get the shot, as well, adding that while people may worry more about some exotic sicknesses they see covered in the press, the flu is what should have their immediate attention.
“People are worrying about Ebola and (Enterovirus D68), but this disease kills more people than either of those,” Blodgett said. “This is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy this winter. Wash your hands, eat well, exercise and get your flu shot.”
Aside from getting people vaccinated against the flu, Heaton said, the shootout helps the health department practice setting up vaccination stations needed in case an unforeseen emergency requires a mass medication/vaccination of the area populace. The health department can have the stations set up and ready to go in a matter of hours, Heaton said.
While the drive-thru portion of the mass vaccination event closed at 2 p.m., people can still get flu shots for themselves and their families inside the Red Cliffs Mall until 7 p.m. The mall is located at 1770 Red Cliffs Drive in St. George.
For individuals without insurance, flu shots are $18, while the nasal spray version (an alternative for those who have issues with needles) is $25. Payment is accepted in the form of cash, check or credit card. There is no charge for the vaccine with proof of the following insurances: Medicare HMO, Adult Medicaid, PEHP, Select Health, Altius, Arches, DMBA, United Healthcare, and Tall Tree, according to the SWUPHD website.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department also accepts walk-ins at its office at 620 S. 400 East in St George and at its offices in Beaver, Iron, Garfield and Kane counties. Detailed information can be found on the health department website.
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