Program Allows for a One-Stop Double Benefit: A Vote Cast and Flu Protection
For the first time on a national scale, voters completing one essential fall ritual, casting their ballot, simultaneously took part in another: getting vaccinated against the flu.
Flu vaccination clinics around the country were set up within — or nearby — select polling stations. The Vote & Vax program operated 250 vaccination clinics in 36 states, including 11 clinics in Connecticut.
“This is entirely non-political. It’s a way of providing an important public health service,” says Douglas Shenson, associate clinical professor at the Yale School of Public Health, who organized this year’s nationwide vaccination effort.
The idea was to provide people with a convenient way to get vaccinated. The individuals most at risk from influenza — those who are over 50 years old — are also the people most likely to vote (generally comprising nearly 70% of expected voters). The cost of the vaccinations for people under age 65 varied depending on location, but the shots were usually free for people with Medicare insurance. Vote & Vax required that participating health providers charge the same fee that they normally would at other flu clinics they host.
“Vote & Vax is a public health strategy designed to better protect vulnerable Americans against influenza,” Shenson says. “During national elections, polling places offer an extraordinary public health opportunity to reach very large numbers of older adults on a single day early in the flu shot season. More than 126 million adults were expected to pass through the 186,000 polling places across the country — and by providing flu shots at polling sites we were able to reach many Americans who would not otherwise be vaccinated.”
The non-partisan program was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a Princeton, New Jersey-based philanthropy devoted to improving the health and healthcare of all Americans. The effort was directed by the Connecticut-based Sickness Prevention Achieved through Regional Collaboration, a non-profit health agency that Shenson directs.
The idea began in 2006 as a pilot program that reached some 13,000 people. The organizers expected that, with the intense interest in this year’s election and the expanded network of clinics, the number of people vaccinated would be far higher; the actual number of participants is still being compiled. Shenson says he wants to see the program continue in subsequent election cycles until it becomes a routine part of public health practice.
In Connecticut, the program was offered at East Ridge Middle School, Scotts Ridge Middle School and Yanity Gym (all in Ridgefield); Vance School (New Britain); Plainfield Town Hall (Plainfield); Gordon C. Swift Middle School (Oakville); East Hartland Town Hall (East Hartland); JFK Campus (Bridgeport); Harborside Middle School (Milford); North Windham School Polling Station (North Windham); and the Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center (Bethel).
— By Karen Peart