Free clinic kicks off flu shot season


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For seniors in Pittsburgh's East End, the Homewood Senior Center on Frankstown Avenue is a place bustling with activities: arts and crafts, line dancing lessons, exercise classes and next month, a murder mystery dinner party.

But today, it was the home base for a flu clinic offering free influenza vaccines, a potentially life-saving shot for the elderly, who are more prone to succumb to an infection or to experience serious complications than younger people.

The clinic, run by Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Area Agency on Aging, the non-profit Northern Area Multi-Services Center and the Allegheny County Health Department kicked off of a campaign to urge seniors to get flu shots.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that influenza kills about 36,000 people a year, and around 90 percent of those deaths occur in the elderly. Health Department Interim Director Ronald Voorhees estimated there are a few deaths in the county from the flu every year.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Dr. Voorhees all spoke before an audience of about 70 residents, hammering home the importance of the vaccine.

"We're out here to make sure that Pittsburgh continues to be America's most liveable city," said Mr. Ravenstahl.

Mr. Fitzgerald spoke of all of the assets the region offers at its senior centers, "but to have all of these things and enjoy all of these things, we need to stay healthy."

And Mr. Fitzgerald put his money -- and his shoulder -- where his mouth was, getting vaccinated himself.

Dr. Voorhees said lung and heart problems that are more common in the elderly, combined with a weakened immune system, mean seniors are more vulnerable to get the flu and more likely to get serious complications when they contract it. He estimated at least a few people die from influenza in the county annually, deaths that may have been prevented with a flu shot.

And, he said, it's "easy and free."

But perhaps his most persuasive argument?

"You don't want to miss any one of those Steelers games," he said.

Andrew Rind, the senior director of the home and community-based programs with the Northern Area Multi-Service Center said a total of 85 seniors were vaccinated and 24 of those also received a pneumonia vaccine at today's clinic. But even in the crowd at the senior center, there were a few holdouts, some who didn't feel they needed it, others who were fearful of side effects.

Generally speaking, the vaccine is free to those with MediCare, but some clinics and doctor's offices require an upfront fee and then the patient has to fill out paperwork to get reimbursed, Mr. Rind said. But with the help of UPMC, Highmark and Advantra, the shots were free, which means people who didn't want the headache of the cost or the paperwork won't be driven away, he said.

Northern Area Multi-Services is host to several other flu clinics, including one Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Highlands Senior Center in Tarentum and a second one from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Rachel Carson Hall, also in Tarentum. For more information on the group's clinics, call 412-408-2900.

region - health

This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/trypittsburghpress/ Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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