CROWN HEIGHTS — The Health Department will give out hundreds of free flu shots this weekend in Crown Heights, where officials say inoculations are worryingly low among those who are most at risk.
Elderly residents in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and parts of Crown Heights and Flatbush have among the lowest flu vaccination rates in the city, leaving them among the most vulnerable to this year's frigid influenza season, Zucker said. Only about 37 percent of the area's residents above age 65 are vaccinated, as compared to about 85 percent of those in Sunset Park and 62 percent citywide.
"We are always concerned about access to vaccines...especially for immigrant communities and adults who may not have insurance," said Dr. Jane Zucker, an immunization specialist and assistant commissioner at the city's Health Department.
"We're especially worried about the adult population," Zucker said, adding that the season's unusually cold weather could be helping the virus spread. "Influenza virus thrives in this weather....it’s prime weather for survival of the virus in the environment in terms of people being able to transmit it to each other if they’re coughing and sneezing."
"That’s why we very much try to promote places where these people can get vaccinated," she added, saying the predominant flu strain this year is H1N1 — which made headlines when it broke out in 2009.
Although flu activity in NYC is currently slightly lower than it was at this time last year, the department warns that the city is only just now entering the peak of flu season. What's more, with one of the highest rates of diabetes in the city, many Crown Heights residents are particularly at risk for flu-related complications if they do fall ill, Zucker said.
"That’s exactly why we’re having the event in Crown Heights, to try to raise awareness of the importance of flu vaccine and to make sure that people have access to it," Zucker said.
But while the ill and elderly are always a concern, this year's flu strain has been particularly hard on young adults, nearly 70 percent of whom are not vaccinated across the city, Zucker said.
The Health Department will hold its free flu vaccine event Jan. 25 at Crown Heights First Baptist Church at 400 Eastern Parkway from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
"We have other locations for people who can’t make it on Saturday," including the neighborhood's Orthodox Jews, Zucker said. "It’s hard to have one event that can capture everybody, but the event is as much about offering [the] vaccine as it is about raising awareness."