Flu Emergency Declared in Boston

(NECN: Josh Brogadir, Boston) - Dorchester House is one of the sites where the city of Boston will have a free flu clinic this weekend, but it is much more complicated than just offering the services to the public.

People have to agree to show up.

"Today, I am declaring a public health emergency in the city of Boston," announced Mayor Tom Menino.

Even before all the leaves were off the trees, and months before this health issue reached a growing level of concern, 80-year-old Rosemary Gallagher of Dorchester took steps to avoid the flu.

"I got the flu shot when it first came out from my doctor," Gallagher said.

She just wishes her friends and a group of seniors she leads at the Dorchester House in Fields Corner would do the same.

"Well some of the older seniors, they feel they never got it before and they don't want any shots," Gallagher said.

"We'd like to see you at one of our clinics. We'd like thousands of people to get vaccinated this weekend. There are thousands of people in the city of Boston who still have not gotten vaccinated," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer of the Boston Public Health Commission.

Seven hundred reported cases and four deaths have prompted Boston public health officials to take action, offering free flu shots this weekend and urging people to take advantage of them so they don't get sick.

The city's urban core has seen the most flu, and among the most vulnerable are seniors.

In fact, all four people who died of the flu in the city this season were 65 or older.

The challenge at places such as Dorchester House is convincing the elderly population - and others - that a flu shot is worth getting, and could even save your life.

"We estimate that only a small fraction of people who are even in the higher risk groups are getting the flu shots. Like Rosemary was saying, a lot of folks just don't like the idea, the hassle, the potential cost. It hurts," said Dr. Patrick Egan, Chief Medical Officer at Dorchester House.

And so, now that they're getting sick, empty chairs are a rarity in the waiting room.

Dr. Egan says this urgent care clinic has been 25 to 50 percent busier than usual - but might be much less so if more people got the vaccine.

"We've delivered something like between 5,000 and 6,000 flu shots this season, which is a lot, but it's 1/3 of our patients," Dr. Egan said.

The city has set up a health line at 617-534-5050.

And for a full list of more than a dozen clinics to go for free this weekend in the city of Boston, click here.

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