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Allegheny County Health Department to Provide Free Flu Shots to the Homeless This Thanksgiving

During the last flu season there were 1,415 confirmed cases of influenza in Allegheny County, but the health department adds that for every one laboratory-tested case there are as many as 100 others.

More vulnerable groups of people, such as the elderly and infants, are often affected by life-threatening symptoms brought on by the virus. This Thanksgiving, healthcare organizations in the area are starting a new initiative to help some of the most vulnerable residents.

The county health department is partnering with the Light of Life Rescue Mission and the Allegheny County Immunization Coalition for a program called “Shots & Socks” to provide the homeless with flu shots and fresh socks on Thursday.

“Because of their situation, a lot of times (the homeless) may gather together in shelter areas and flu is very contagious, its spread airborne,” said Nancy Scopelitis, a public health nurse with the Allegheny County Health Department. “So anytime you have people that are assembling together in a small area, the higher the risk of spreading the flu.”

According to Scopelitis, many homeless do not have medical care or access to immunization on their own. This makes them especially susceptible to the flu and less likely to seek medical attention for severe symptoms. The homeless will also be given donated socks to help keep them warm during the coming winter.

Flu shots are recommended for anyone over the age of six months because immunization is the most effective form of preventing widespread and severe infection.

“I feel like everybody that gets vaccinated that increases their chances of not catching the flu,” Scopelitis said, “and if they do hopefully the disease would be a lot milder, they would have no complications, hopefully it would not lead to hospitalization or even death.”

Donations of new socks are being accepted until Thanksgiving Day at the Light of Life Rescue Mission office in the North Side.