Students looking to protect themselves from the flu this winter cannot rely on the free flu shots being handed out by the Santa Barbara County Health Dept., as those vaccines are only available for the elderly and chronically ill.

The health department will hand out free vaccines on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to people over 60 years old and patients who have been deemed chronically ill by their doctors. The shots will be available from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Franklin Community Center on East Montecito Street in downtown Santa Barbara. Although only a limited group of people will receive the shot for free, Student Health Pharmacy Director Diane Ozasa said she thinks everyone can benefit from the vaccine.

Ozasa said students can receive the flu vaccine for $15 at Student Health until the end of Fall Quarter, and possibly into January. Student Health Medical Director Dr. Elizabeth Downing said it is important for everyone to get vaccinated before flu season begins.

“The peak flu season is usually January and February, and the immunity kicks in after the vaccine [is administered] – within one to two weeks,” Downing said. “We like to start getting people immune in November in case the flu starts early.”

Paige Batson, the manager of the Disease Control and Prevention Program at the Santa Barbara County Health Dept., said there was a shortage of flu shots last year but she does not anticipate facing the same problem again. Batson said the state gave the health department 10,500 doses of the vaccine to give to at-risk people this year.

Santa Barbara County Health Dept. Director Elliot Schulman said he hopes that locals who are eligible for the free vaccination take the opportunity to protect themselves from the flu.

“The flu is a vaccine-preventable disease,” Schulman said. “Although it is not 100-percent protective, the flu will be much milder and there is less hospitalization with the vaccine. It is absolutely worth the effort. It is the single best thing folks can do to prevent getting the flu.”

Downing said high-risk patients, such as those who do qualify for the free flu shots, should get the vaccine every year.

“It provides immunity [against] the latest flu virus because the flu viruses change every year,” Downing said. “They make their best guess about what the virus will look like. [The vaccine] stimulates your body to make antibodies.”