Perhaps pot sales could fight the flu

Funding for the county’s Flu Roundup is gone because of budget cuts. Bringing it back would benefit the community.

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Flu season is fast approaching, and medical experts advise folks to get an annual flu-prevention shot.

Unfortunately, despite good intentions, some people just don’t get around to getting the shot. Others don’t want to spend the money, around $30, even though they know it will reduce the chance they will get sick.

Walla Walla County had its annual Flu Roundup until a few years ago, which drew 1,000 or more people to get the low-cost inoculation. It was fast, cheap and convenient.

The Roundup also provided training opportunities for health care agencies in the event of an emergency, disaster or epidemic.

But budget troubles at the state level rolled downhill to the county level, essentially eliminating the cash needed to subsidize the program.

The Roundup is now gone.

But late last month, Providence St. Mary Medical Center had a free, five-hour, drive-through vaccination clinic for adults at the hospital. About 600 people sat in their cars as they were injected with the flu vaccine. That’s an impressive turnout and generous donation to the community.

Yet, is it realistic to think Providence St. Mary or another hospital/clinic will provide free shots year after year?

Probably not. The Flu Roundup, run through the Walla Walla County Health Department, needs to be brought back.

Funding it, just like funding every other chopped government program, won’t be easy. It will require seeking out revenue (tax collections) to state government that isn’t already allocated.

Given that, we believe linking some of the cash from the new marijuana tax revenue with health care concerns should be explored. After all, the initiative that legalized recreational pot was pitched as a health care boon for low-income residents.

But it is not clear where every dollar of the pot taxes and fees will go because of the Affordable Care Act.

The intended target for the pot taxes was Washington’s Basic Health Plan, which provided low-cost insurance for the working poor, but under ACA that is being absorbed by Medicaid.

Since the Basic Health Plan is gone, several million dollars each year are freed for other health care uses.

Most of that money should be targeted back to its original purpose, health care subsidies for the working poor.

But a few slivers of the revenue could be used to fund public flu inoculation programs in Walla Walla, Columbia and the other 37 counties.

Reducing the flu, or even the symptoms of flu, will save money in the health care system as there will be fewer trips to doctors or hospital emergency rooms.

It’s the Legislature that will make the call.

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