My Public Option

Flu season is nearly upon us, and the good folks at the New York City Health and Mental Hygiene are providing the population with free access to the influenza vaccine. However, while there are over 8.3 million people in New York City proper, there is only a grand total of five free walk-in clinics operated by the city – one for each borough, or one clinic per 1.7 million people. In practice, this turns out to mean that it takes roughly four hours for a person to get a flu shot. I arrived at 9 am at the clinic on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. The place had been open for an hour, and the line was already a hundred and fifty people long.

I spent the next three hours in line. Arguments broke out over line etiquette. A rat ran through the crowd. Every 20 minutes we shuffled forward en masse as another group was taken indoors. At last I was called, and with renewed vigor I strolled inside and down to the basement … where we were told to sit in chairs. Another half an hour passed.

A custodian cleaning the nearby bathrooms peered at us. “You know, y’all could just head to a Duane Reade or a Walgreen’s or somewhere and get this same shot right now! Fifteen dollars!”

“Twenty-five,” replied a Russian lady.

“Okay, okay, 25,” said the custodian, smiling. “Still, that’s not so much.”

Brooklyn Clinic
Flu shot! Get your free flu shot!

Finally a female police officer coralled us into the elevator to the fifth floor, and then on to another seating area where we filled out several forms and waited for our number to be called. As I sat down, I heard the nurse bark “93!” I was number 140.

An hour later, I heard my number. After a series of quick questions with an attendant (all of which I’d already answered on the forms I’d filled out), the attendant pointed, without looking, towards a door, and I entered a hallway leading to the exam rooms. And sat down to wait again.

The shot itself, when it finally came, took about a minute and a half to administer. My arm throbbed afterwards.

At this rate, if everyone chooses to save their $25 and go with the public option, for all of New York to be inoculated would take approximately 3,718.6 years. Considering that the flu virus changes annually, we’re a bit behind.

- Ned Thorne