San Angelo has not been immune, as Texas and 46 other states were labeled to have "widespread" instances of the flu by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Dec. 30 to Jan. 5. Additionally, the intensity level for influenza-like illness is ranked high in Texas.
What role did San Angelo's City Council play in the widespread flu plaguing the area? Council severely reduced immunization services October 1 of last year, the time preparations should have been well underway to battle the flu season.
A City of San Angelo press release stated:
Immunizations offered by the City of San Angelo Health Services Department will be offered on Tuesdays only, effective Oct. 1.Out of the fifteen Tuesdays since October 1, the City offered immunizations on twelve. On October 30 the clinic was closed as staff attended a meeting in Austin. The clinic was closed for the Christmas and New Year's Day holiday.
Previously, immunizations were offered each weekday. The Health Services budget was reduced $78,000 in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, eliminating a nursing and an administrative assistant’s position, and reducing services.
The New Year had Council approving $150,000 for Phase 1 and 2 of a Downtown Master Developer without identifying the source of funding. That's more than the $138,000 City Council cut from the Health Department budget for the current year.
San Angelo's elected leaders knew immunizations would be drasitcally reduced: Health Services Director Sandra Villareal testified to council.
From a general comparison of patients from January to June of this year, Villarreal estimates that about 2,500 to 3,000 patients will be affected by the cut in immunization offerings.
With the City abdicating its public health responsibility, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will partially fill the void:
Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide 1,800 free flu mist vaccinations for San Angelo children today. The free Blue Cross Blue Shield vaccination clinic will be from 2-4 p.m. today at McDonald's, 4330 Southwest Drive. Vaccines will be given to children 6 months to 18 years old if they are American Indian or Alaskan Native, have Medicaid or are uninsured or insured without vaccination coverage.
The City's Immunization Clinic serves the exact same population, according to a City press release.
What's the cost to our community from City Council's decision? Sicker people, for one.
"Even if you get the flu after a flu shot, the severity is much lower," said Doug Eakman, a pharmacist at Medical Arts Pharmacy in San Angelo.
How many of the 2,500 to 3,000 formerly served by the Health Department got shots elsewhere? Council's action resulted in many in our community suffering from more severe symptoms.
The end result of Council's reducing seasonal flu vaccinations is higher health care costs.
According to the CDC, influenza-associated hospitalizations between Oct. 1 and Jan. 5 have occurred at a rate of 13.3 per 100,000 people. Two influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported this week, bringing the total to 20.
Sicker people and higher health care costs, that's this Council's trickle down. Public health is a weak shadow of its former self, thanks to a decade of funding reductions. Various iterations of San Angelo's Council executed funding reductions. The Council bears responsibility for dramatically reducing flu immunization availability. Symbolically, they caused a pox on many houses..