Bud Kennedy

Their families need flu shots. But they can’t get them. Here’s why.

Sometimes we save money but look silly doing it.

This is one of those times.

Everybody should get a flu shot. They’re $20 or $25. At the county public hospital and clinics, we give them away to the poor.

But there’s a catch.

Foreign students, international visitors and immigrants here illegally don’t qualify.

They can’t get a discount flu shot.

But you sure can catch their flu.

This is one of those little distinctions between Dallas and Tarrant counties based more on political ideology than practical policy.

In Dallas, if you want a flu shot, you can get one.

In Tarrant County, we’d like to know first whether you’re really supposed to be living here. (Or whether you have $25.)

Since 2004, the JPS Health Network has refused low-cost care to patients who lack exactly the right kind of visa or immigration papers.

Yes, even immunizations and flu shots.

“Whether you get the flu depends a lot on where you live and what you make,” said Dr. Liz Trevino, until recently chief executive of the North Texas Area Community Health Centers, nonprofit clinics in Fort Worth and Arlington.

Most working families will put aside the $20 or $25 per person for flu shots, she said.

“Is it hard? Yes,” she said. “Would they rather spend it on groceries? Yes.”

But somebody who’s hurt on the job, lost a job or here on a temporary visa might not be able to afford immunization.

Tarrant County joins Orange and San Diego counties in California and Maricopa County, Arizona, as the only counties among the nation’s 20 largest that refuse preventative or clinical care to immigrants here illegally.

(It has to be locally funded. Federal law and policy require public hospitals to offer everyone emergency care and labor-and-delivery services, but immunizations are not considered an emergency.)

It shouldn’t be a political question.

Under President George W. Bush in 2006, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt set off a firestorm when he said officials should “vaccinate every person who wants a flu vaccine.”

“We provide flu shots to anyone who comes, because we are facing a very serious flu epidemic,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said late Tuesday.

Dallas’ flu death toll rose to 52 Tuesday, with nearly 90 deaths officially counted across Dallas-Fort Worth and many more uncounted.

“It’s not about the person who gets the shot,” Jenkins said.

“That person may be a caretaker for a child, or for somebody over 65. It’s about protecting the whole community.”

The rider in the next seat on the commuter rail line needs a flu shot.

The next person at the fast-food counter needs a flu shot.

“It makes us all safer if we provide the flu shot to everyone,” Jenkins said.

That ought to be worth $20 or $25.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538

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