Election Day is just around the corner, but flu season is already here. Anyone with a congressional ID can get a free flu shot — and mostly without a wait — right in the Capitol.
The Office of the Attending Physician administers flu shots at 10 locations across the Capitol complex each fall. The internal website for the OAP showed that all locations still had the vaccine in stock as of Thursday, but staffers told Roll Call they have been encouraged to get theirs soon because the OAP has limited supplies of the immunization.
Staffers who had already been immunized on campus told Roll Call there was little or no waiting when they went in this week. On Thursday, this reporter was in and out of the OAP’s office on the first floor of the Capitol in less than five minutes during lunchtime.
The flu shots are available to thousands of legislative staffers, Capitol Police officers, construction workers, restaurant employees, journalists and others who work in the Capitol complex.
Last flu season, an estimated 80,000 Americans died of the flu and its complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the deadliest season in more than four decades — since 1976, the date of the first published paper reporting total seasonal flu deaths.
The CDC recommends getting the flu shot to build what is called “herd immunity” as the virus sweeps through the country. That means even if you’re young and healthy and think you can shrug off a bout of the flu, you could still spread it to more vulnerable people who can’t.
Last year’s high death toll may have been linked to the lowest rate of adult vaccinations since the 2010-2011 season. According to the CDC, this year’s flu vaccines have been updated to better match the circulating viruses.
The average age of House and Senate members in the 115th Congress ranks among the oldest in history, which means many lawmakers are in the “older people” category that the CDC says is particularly vulnerable to influenza.
Young children, pregnant women and anyone with compromised immune systems are also especially at risk. With House and Senate day care programs at capacity and waitlists teeming with children of staffers, Capitol Hill has its fair share of kids falling into the vulnerable populations category to protect.
Flu shots are available at all OAP health units and first aid rooms, which are open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Capitol and Capitol Visitor Center; Cannon, Longworth, Rayburn, Ford, Hart, Russell, and O’Neill buildings; Postal Square; and the Supreme Court.