Tarrant County Public Health is ending free flu shots. Here’s what happened

Jenna Garrison gets a flu shot at the second annual Austin Independent School District Fair at the Palmer Events Center in September in Austin.  A Tarrant County public health program that offered free flu shots to uninsured adults will not return this flu season.

Jenna Garrison gets a flu shot at the second annual Austin Independent School District Fair at the Palmer Events Center in September in Austin. A Tarrant County public health program that offered free flu shots to uninsured adults will not return this flu season.

USA TODAY NETWORK

Tarrant County Public Health will not purchase free flu shots for adults without health insurance during the fall flu season because funding for the program has been used up.

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The public health department offered free flu shots for adults without insurance for three years using emergency COVID funding. This flu season, uninsured adults will have to purchase their vaccines, which usually cost about $25.

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The funds provided for the COVID -19 pandemic response have been depleted, Tarrant County Public Health spokesperson Edrea Au said in an email.

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The county health department used federal money to pay for free flu shots starting in 2020, as a way to try and prevent an influx of patients with influenza at local hospitals that were already filled with COVID patients.

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In 2021, the health department expanded the program to partner with retail pharmacies like Kroger and Albertsons. During that flu season, the program provided free flu shots to more than 3,200 county residents, according to records provided to the Star-Telegram.

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We want people to have no barriers and participate in getting flu vaccinations, Vinny Taneja, the director of Tarrant County Public Health, said during an October 2021 commissioners court meeting.

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Public health agencies across the U.S. have long grappled with an influx of funding during emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic, that dries up after the emergency has waned. Health agencies across the U.S. received significant increases in short-term funding that generally took the form of one-time COVID-19-specific appropriations, according to a report from Trust for Americas Health, a nonpartisan public health group.

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The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to pay for annual flu shots for people with insurance. But about one in every five Tarrant County adults under 65 doesnt have health insurance.

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Vaccination rates for the seasonal flu vaccine are typically low in the U.S. and in Texas: In 2021, about 42% of Tarrant Countys population got a seasonal flu vaccine, according to federal estimates.

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The severity of flu seasons changes from year to year. During the 2019-2020 flu season, an estimated 25,000 people died from the flu and about 390,000 people were hospitalized with influenza. In that same flu seasons, experts estimated that the flu vaccine prevented 7,000 deaths and 100,000 hospitalizations. The CDC recommends everyone six months and older get a seasonal flu shot, which can reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill if you are infected with the virus.

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The health department does offer low-cost shots for people without health insurance at its clinics, Au said. Flu shots are $25 for adults without insurance and $8 for children without health insurance.

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Ciara McCarthy covers health and wellness as part of the Star-Telegrams Crossroads Lab. She came to Fort Worth after three years in Victoria, Texas, where she worked at the Victoria Advocate. Ciara is focused on equipping people and communities with the information they need to make decisions about their lives and well-being. Get in touch with your questions about public health or the health system. Email cmccarthi@star-telegram.com or call or text 817-203-4391.

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