The day after public health officials announced that a Boston child died after contracting the flu, hundreds flocked to 23 health clinics around the city Saturday clamoring for free flu vaccinations.
Marquita Coston arrived at the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center’s health clinic with her 8-year-old daughter just after 9 a.m. They had heard the news about the child and the five Boston adults who had the flu and died, and they were scared.
“I’m willing to wait,” Coston said, as the two stood with dozens of others in a hallway straining to hear their names called. “She has to get it today — has to.”
Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission, had no further information on the identity of the dead child, who was under age 6, and said tests are underway to determine the cause of death.
“We hope that people will take this really unfortunate tragedy and sort of use it as an impetus to go out and get vaccinated,” Martin said.
Representatives from the Boston Public Health Commission were in communication with staff at each clinic to keep tabs on the number of vaccine doses in stock and to have more delivered immediately if the supply began to dwindle, Martin said.
“We’re seeing very steady traffic at all the health center locations,” Martin said. “There’s been really good turnout and no vaccine shortages, so we’re happy about that.”
Free flu clinics will also be held Sunday at the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester from noon to 4 p.m. and at St. Anthony’s Wellness Center downtown from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Though all the clinics held Saturday were bustling, said Martin, Boston has no plans for more city-sponsored emergency vaccination clinics after this weekend. Residents who hope to get the flu shot after Sunday should look to health centers with routine vaccination offerings.
“At this point, we’re not seeing a need to do another concerted push like this,” he said. “We hope we keep seeing people coming out and getting flu shots.”
Updates on the health clinics providing flu vaccine are available at the Boston Public Health Commission’s website, www.bphc.org.
At the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, not everyone who visited for flu shots was from the neighborhood.
Bill Murray, a father of three, drove more than 25 miles from his home in Hamilton to get flu shots for his two younger daughters, ages 10 and 3. He said he and his wife had called all of the drugstores and local health clinics in their suburban town and found that supplies were gone. “This is the only place where we could find shots,” Murray said.
The clinic had scheduled its free vaccine shots from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but clinicians accommodated dozens of early arrivals. By 10 a.m., when the clinic officially opened, staff had already given 140 flu shots, said Anita Morris, chief operating officer for the health center.
There were virtually no waiting lines. People who entered were given forms, available in English and Spanish. Most adults received their shots in an open area, though those with children were invited into private rooms, largely because some children complained loudly as they anticipated the prick.
Alma Martinez, 24, who works as a receptionist at the center, hauled her two parents into the clinic to get their flu shots, even though they were skeptical about the need.
“I never get sick,” said her father, Francisco Mendoza, 48. His wife echoed the sentiment.
When the clinic closed Saturday afternoon, the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center had dispensed 1,180 shots, well under the 3,400 vaccine shots available. If people want shots later in the week, they can call the center and arrange an appointment, Morris said.
At Dorchester House, about 450 people had been vaccinated by the time the clinic closed at noon, Martin said, just under the number they had anticipated, 500. While waiting areas were crowded, patients said they were pleased with the steady clip at which individuals got in and out of examination rooms.
Children were kept entertained with new books, and received stickers after their shots. Adults entering and exiting the center angled for pumps at one of several hand sanitizer dispensers stationed.
And though Dorchester House was crowded for the morning, Ira Schlosser, the center’s director of planning and community affairs, was relieved to see that there were no lines of hundreds waiting outside the door when staff opened up for the morning. They had feared a frenzy, similar to the one that they experienced when the H1N1 pandemic hit in 2009. Saturday’s influx of flu-phobes, though increased by news reports of the outbreak, had not reached a fever pitch.
Madelyn Villanueva, 46, waited with her 10-year-old son, Armani. She has been vigilant about hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, and Lysol, but realized that signing up for a flu shot would be the best way to ensure that they do not fall ill.
“It’s scary to find out people are dying,” Villanueva said.
Whitney Keller, 26, sat reading her book club’s murder mystery novel in the waiting room. The day before, she had raced to two CVS locations in South Boston at 8:30 a.m., only to find that both had sold out of vaccines. In years past, she has skipped her yearly flu shot. But not this year.
“Sometimes I get it; sometimes I don’t,” said Keller, who lives in Savin Hill. But with free clinics, she said, “it’s kind of like a ‘why not?’ situation.”