End of Flu Shot Roundup bad for public health

Yet, the local Health Department had no choice but to end the program. The money to fund it is no longer available.

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The current budget crisis facing federal, state and local governments has forced the cancellation of this year's "Flu Shot Roundup" at Walla Walla County Fairgrounds. This is more than unfortunate -- it's sickening. Or, at least, it could be sickening to a lot of folks in the Valley.

The Flu Shot Roundups held over the past six years have likely reduced the spread of the flu in the Valley. The low cost of the immunizations and convenient location have resulted in a large number of folks being inoculated.

While those who want flu shots will have plenty of other options, we are concerned many won't get a shot because it's a hassle and it is more expensive.

Preventing the spread of disease is something that's wise for government to subsidize.

But the Flu Shot Roundups provided another benefit beyond curbing the spread of disease. Having people stream into one central location for the shot has served to train local health-care workers for dealing with future need for a communitywide emergency response, such as a pandemic.

Learning how to work together in the most efficient way possible, covering every base in an emergency, benefits professionals and the public, said Harvey Crowder, the Walla Walla County Health Department administrator.

"Costs to plan and operate the (flu-shot) clinic have always exceeded the income generated by charging for the immunizations," Crowder said. "The difference has been made up by public health emergency preparedness grant funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

The fact is public health departments across the state -- and nation -- are being forced to reduce the services they offer. As a result, public health will suffer and the cost of treating disease will rise. We are all going to pay one way or the other.

But, at this point, the cash isn't available at the federal, state or local levels to fully fund public health. And it's not likely we will see an infusion of money any time soon.

Given that, Crowder made the right call in shelving the annual Flu Shot Roundup. Tough decisions have to be made in tough times.

Nevertheless, the end of the Flu Shot Roundup remains unfortunate or -- cough, cough -- worse.

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