Influenza is packing a harder punch than anyone expected this season all over the U.S. (check out this Google map of flu trends). In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public state of emergency because of the severe flu season (see article). And in Boston, MA, there have been over 950 confirmed cases of the flu since October 1, compared to 70 cases all of last season, according to the latest figures from the Boston Public Health Commission. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency in response to to the outbreak, and Community Health Centers have stepped up to help. More than 6,000 people have been been vaccinated for the flu in the past few days, according to a press release by the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. Health centers there are also experiencing high call volumes from patients and scrambling to stay stocked with vaccines as they offer flu clinics to patients. In fact, our informal query to health centers show that almost all of them have been affected in some way by flu activity — whether it is more patients walking through the door, calling the nurse for an appointment, or higher demand for flu vacines and boosted efforts at outreach to patients to let them know it’s not too late for a flu shot.
It’s worth noting, too, that health centers provide one-quarter of all primary care visits to the nation’s low income population, and many of them are the “working poor,” who cannot afford to call in sick to work. As a recent article in the Boston Globe noted: “Some low-income residents who are busy with work, including juggling multiple jobs, or who work odd hours cannot find time to get vaccinated. They are less likely to be able to afford to take time off from jobs when they become sick or want to get vaccinated, in many cases because they do not receive paid sick time and other health benefits…”