Now is the time: Free flu shot vouchers won’t last long

It’s different this year due to the pandemic, but free flu shot vouchers are still available through a partnership between United Way of Southern Cameron County, FamilyWize and Walgreens.

There’s a limited number of vouchers, though, so you’ll want to move fast. The program is designed for uninsured or under insured people who can’t afford a flu shot. In years past, the free vaccinations were offered through a pop-up clinic at the Brownsville Independent School District’s Parent Fair and involved paper vouchers, said UWSCC President and CEO Traci Wickett. Another round of free shots was offered later in the fall.

“We would give roughly 750 to 800 flu shots to people without insurance through these venues,” she said. “Obviously nobody’s having gatherings this year, so this year what we’re doing is we’re putting the word out that people who don’t have insurance — and you know that’s plenty of people in southern Cameron County — still need to get their flu shots even though there’s not a clinic they can come to.”

Now the way it works is that those who can’t afford a flu shot need to call 211, the health and human services hotline, explain that they are uninsured and request a voucher. They’ll be given a FamilyWize web address where they’ll need to go to fill out a small form in order to have a digital voucher emailed to them, Wickett said. They can then present the digital voucher on their phone or a printed copy at Walgreens to receive their free flu shot, she said.

“They do not have to have a Social Security Number,” Wickett said. “It doesn’t ask anything about their citizenship status. It just basically asks for sufficient information to email them a voucher that they can then take to Walgreens.”

FamilyWize will email the vouchers within 48 hours of receiving the form, she said.

“We think this is especially important this year,” Wickett said. “You certainly don’t want anybody being at risk for both influenza and COVID-19, because we really don’t know at this point what that combo is going to look like and how many complications that will create.”

In the past, UWSCC would request a certain number of paper vouchers from FamilyWize based on expected demand at the pop-up clinics. This year, FamilyWise offered 4,800 digital vouchers to cover 11 states.

“I think the takeaway from that is request your voucher ASAP, and there’s two good reasons for that,” Wickett said. “One is you want to make sure you’re among the 4,800 to get a voucher, and second is you need to get your flu shot now. Waiting until November or December is a bad idea just from a health standpoint, but it could be a bad bet to make that there’s still going to be free vouchers available a month from now. So we encourage everybody to request their voucher as soon as they possibly can and get their shots as soon as they possibly can.”

Meanwhile, predicted demand for flu shots is way up over last year, and Cameron County has one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation as evidenced by the large number of residents who pay cash for prescriptions, according to Wickett.

“Plus we’re disproportionately affected by COVID,” she said. “We’re at risk all around. That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we partner with FamilyWize and Walgreens to make these vaccines available.”

Wickett said people who are insured don’t need the vouchers since their insurance will cover the cost of the flu shot, and that the vouchers should be reserved for those who actually need them. She said UWSCC’s relationship with FamilyWize goes way back, since her organization has long helped distribute FamilyWize prescription discount cards to those in need.

“When they came up with the idea of the flu shot clinic in conjunction with Walgreens, we were the obvious partner for that because we’d already been partnering with them on prescription discounts, Wickett said. “Not to brag, but FamilyWize really likes working with us in southern Cameron County because we have a lot of people who take advantage of not only the flu shot clinic but the prescription discount cards, so they know that the need is here.”

Also, UWSCC is committed to the health of the community as much education and financial stability, she said.

“We fight for the health of every person in our community, and this is one of the ways we do it, through vaccinations and trying to keep people healthy,” Wickett said. “Because we know when they’re not healthy it affects everything else. They can’t work. They can’t go to school. So everything else comes tumbling down.”

Wickett noted that Texas is the biggest user of the digital vouchers among the 11 states.

“I will say they are going fast,” she said.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com