Sandi Mennerick is given her first flu shot from Heidi Pirozzi at the Mt. Airy Senior Center on Monday.
Sandi Mennerick is given her first flu shot from Heidi Pirozzi at the Mt. Airy Senior Center on Monday. (KEN KOONSSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

MOUNT AIRY — It's been more years than Helen Simpson can remember since she did not get a flu shot in the fall, and on Monday, the 97-year-old Mount Airy native was one more than 35 people at a flu vaccine clinic at the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center.

Her reasoning for getting the shot every year?


"Just to be certain I don't get the flu," she said. "I don't want to go that way."

The clinic Simpson took advantage of on Monday was the first of five planned at senior centers across the county this month as part of a combined effort involving RiteAid, Finksburg Pharmacy, other pharmacies, private physicians and the Carroll County Health Department. The second was held on Oct. 7 at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center in Eldersburg and the next clinic will be held from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 21 at the North Carroll Senior and Community Center.

"The flu is a seasonal disease, it spreads between October and May and is spread by the influenza virus through coughing, sneezing and close contact," said Doris Hare, communicable disease program manager at the Carroll County Health Department. "It can make people very sick — it can cause pneumonia or other medical conditions — and they might have to be hospitalized. The flu shot is the best way to prevent that from happening and it prevents you from spreading flu to another person."

Many people have never had the flu, or have not had it in years, and it can be easy to be lulled into thinking of it as simply a more nasty cold, but that would be a mistake, according to Hare. Flu leads to thousands of hospitalizations each year, and can be especially dangerous for seniors and young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 105 children died of the infection during last year's flu season.

Carl Minkel, 68, is a martial arts instructor and another participant in Monday's flu clinic. Falling into the vulnerable population himself and recalling past bouts with influenza, he said he tries to get a flu shot each year if just to avoid the terrible illness as well as an act of professional courtesy.

"[The flu] is miserable," he said. "It's miserable and because of what I do know, my occupation, I am around kids all the time and my feeling is if you are going to be in rooms full of children, get the flu shot."

The height of flu season, when the virus is at its peak and making many people sick, generally does not come until January or later, according to Dr. Henry Taylor, Deputy Health Officer at the Carroll County Health Department, but vaccination efforts generally begin in October to ensure people are protected by the time the flu begins making its rounds in the community.

"You want to get the shot approximately one month before flu season actually starts because you start to get protection within seven to 10 days after the shot," Taylor said. "You want to get the shot late enough so that you have protection in the spring if we have a late flu season ... It takes about a month to become protected and then you have about five months of peak protection. If you get the shot now, you will be protected."

In addition to the senior flu shot clinics, flu shots are available at Rite Aid and other pharmacies, as well as many doctor's offices and children in Carroll County Public Schools will have an opportunity to get the vaccine on campus this month, according to Hare.

"There is a huge school campaign that is starting, which is a flu mist ... It is an easy way to do it; some kids are afraid of an injection and do better just sniffing the spray," Hare said. "That will go through October or until they get the schools taken care of."

On Wednesday, the Health Department will also hold a series of four clinics for children who miss the in-school vaccination dates, do not attend public school or cannot take the flu mist for some reason and require an injection, according to Hare. The vaccinations will be offered for free.

The Health Department will also offer flu vaccinations for adults for $25 later this month, Hare said.

"Flu vaccines are really coming in very slow, I don't have a lot in yet," she said. "I am anticipating that some will be coming in and they can call us in the middle of the month."

The important thing, according to Hare, is that people remember to get a flu shot at some point, even if they miss the initial wave of vaccination opportunities this month.


"They should remember they can get flu any time through the fall and into the spring, so there is still time to get flu shot," she said.

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or

This story has been updated to add an additional flu clinic date on Oct. 21.

More information on flu vaccinations

Senior Flu Shot Clinics: 9 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Oct. 21 at the North Carroll Senior and Community Center, 2328 Hanover Pike, Hampstead 9 a.m.-noon Oct. 23 at the Westminster Senior Center, 125 Stoner Avenue, Westminster; 9 a.m.-11 a.m. Oct. 28 at the Taneytown Senior Center, 220 Roberts Mill Road., Taneytown

Cost: $25 for those without Medicare or private insurance

Carroll County Health Department's Children's Flu Shot Clinics: 4 -7 p.m. Oct. 8, Oct. 14, Oct. 29 and Nov. 19 at the Carroll County Health Department 290 S. Center St., Westminster

Cost: Free

For more information on flu shots, contact your physician, pharmacy or call the Carroll County Health Department at 410-876-2152.