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Cast a vote, get vaccinated, nonprofit urges

  • Story Highlights
  • Clinic offers flu shots at polling stations around country
  • More than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths attributed to flu
  • Vote & Vax seen as convenient, non-traditional way to get flu shot
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By Madison Park
CNN
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(CNN) -- Record numbers of early voters are lining up across America, and one nonprofit hopes health is on at least some of their minds.

Veronica Outlaw got her flu shot at an Atlanta recreation center after voting early.

The non-partisan program Vote & Vax is teaming up with local health agencies to provide flu vaccinations at 250 polling locations around the country.

"It's a win-win situation for everyone," said Dr. Doug Shenson, national program director of Vote & Vax. "The providers are delivering flu shots. The community is protected. The election experience is an efficient and good one."

In Atlanta, Georgia, hundreds of early voters waited in four-hour long lines that snaked around a community center. Seniors and people with disabilities waited in expedited lines to cast their ballots.

Regine Denis, a Vote & Vax volunteer, greeted voters with a question, "Have you had your flu shot yet?" and encouraged them to get their shot after voting.

Vote & Vax is "entirely non-political and entirely non-partisan" and started as a way to get older Americans vaccinated for the flu, Shenson said.

Every year, there are more than 200,000 hospitalizations for influenza and 36,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It recommends flu shots for everyone over the age of 50, but estimates only half receive the annual vaccine.

"The majority of people at the polls are 50 years and older. It's a way to reach a group that's at higher risk of the flu," Shenson said. Video Learn more about vaccinations at polling sites »

"It seemed to be a convergence of opportunity with a potential to make an important public health impact."

Election Day falls within flu season, as outbreaks can start in October and peak in January.

With the presidential election bringing intense interest and states are reporting high early turnout.

"The key here is that it's a historic election for all ages, race[s] and gender[s]," said Denis, a manager at the Fulton County Office of Aging, who helped coordinate the local Vote & Vax in Atlanta.

"We're seeing so many people -- with a senior candidate, a female candidate, an African American candidate, the community is coming out in record numbers. We want to see everyone get their flu shots." iReport.com: Did you get a shot at the polls?

While waiting in line to vote, Veronica Outlaw learned about the flu shots and walked to the makeshift clinic in the same building after casting her ballot.

Volunteer nurses manned tables stocked with cotton balls, bandages and packets of ointment, and administered the shots.

"It's like Wal-Mart," Outlaw said, after getting a shot in her upper left arm. "It's a one-stop shop. You can vote and get your flu shot."

Getting a flu shot had been on Berthine Thomas' to-do list. "It was about that time to schedule one with the doctor," she said after getting her vaccination at an Atlanta polling site. "Now I got one. It was very convenient."

People who got vaccinated received a Vote & Vax button to pin next to their "I'm a Georgia Voter" sticker.

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During the 2006 election, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided funds to a New England-based non-profit, called Sickness Prevention Achieved Through Regional Collaboration. That organization piloted the Vote & Vax program at 25 public health agencies, which administered nearly 14,000 flu shots on Election Day.

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"People appreciate the convenience of Vax & Vote," Shenson said. "Where it's cold and difficult for people to get around, they can vote and get a flu shot and be able to do in it one trip."

This year, the flu shots are offered during early voting or on Election Day, depending on the location. The cost for the flu shots vary depending on the clinic, available in 36 states. Check to see if Vote & Vax is offered at your location.

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