Homeless clinic seeks community's help to buy flu vaccines

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24 2012 5:53 p.m. MDT

Flu shots are given to homeless Utahns at the Fourth Street Clinic in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Living in communal shelter, Kelly Kinney knows she's at added risk of contracting flu and whooping cough this winter.

"I try to get every shot that's available," Kinney said after receiving a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccination at Fourth Street Clinic on Wednesday. 

"I don't want to get the whooping cough. I want to be healthy. I'm living in a bad area right now. Everyone around me is sick," she said.

Fourth Street Clinic is attempting to vaccinate 2,200 homeless Utahns before Christmas to help stem the spread of flu, pneumonia and whooping cough. The clinic is asking the community's help to raise $20,000 to purchase discounted vaccines.

"Several government, health care agencies and pharmacies donate vaccines, but donated supplies are limited and often don't come in until late into the winter season," said Dr. Christina Gallop, medical director at Fourth Street Clinic. "The best — and cheapest — defense is to inoculate at the beginning of winter."

Homeless people are at greater risk for contracting viral infections and complications from those illnesses because of communal living conditions, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and limited access to preventative health care. Preventable illnesses may require expensive emergency room visits, hospitalizations or result in death.

Depending upon the year and virility of particular influenza strains, flu can potentially kill 50,000 people a year, said Fourth Street Clinic pharmacist Phuong Sheffer. 

"That's a scary thought," said Robert Martinez, who received a flu shot earlier this year and was in the clinic Wednesday to receive the tetanus, diphtheria-pertussis vaccine.

Sheffer said misinformation is one of the greatest impediments against immunizing Fourth Street Clinic clients. Some believe they will contract flu if they receive the vaccine, which is not true, he said.

Sheffer said he attempts to educate patients about the benefits of vaccination and dispel the myths while dispensing medications at the pharmacy. 

"Once they understand the problems, they usually come back the next day, sometimes even a few hours later" to receive the vaccines, he said.

Jennifer Hyvonen, the clinic's communication director, said the clinic's staff and patients were hard hit by H1N1 influenza in 2009, when vaccine supplies were extremely limited.

"Our patients and our staff got so sick. We were inundated," Hyvonen said. "After that, we started stepping up our vaccination efforts."

This year's flu vaccine also includes protection against the H1N1 strain, she said.

Fourth Street Clinic

Fourth Street Clinic is a comprehensive health care home that serves 3,800 homeless men, women and children with 22,300 primary care, behavioral health and specialty care visits annually.

Fourth Street Pharmacy dispenses 44,400 medications each year. The clinic, which has a staff of 50 people and 150 volunteers, is a partner in ending homelessness, promoting community health and achieving health care savings. 

For more information about the vaccination effort or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.fourthstreetclinic.org, email kimb@fourthstreetclinic.org or call 801-364-0058.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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