With flu season fast approaching, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept. is sponsoring seasonal flu clinics throughout the month of October.

Free seasonal flu shots will be available to those over 60 years of age and to younger individuals who obtain a doctor’s verification of chronic illness. An alternative FluMist nasal spray vaccine will also be offered at these clinics to non-pregnant people ages 2 to 49 who do not have a history of wheezing or asthma.

SBCPHD Assistant Deputy Director Susan Klein-Rothschild said that UCSB students should seriously consider attending the free clinics.

“Get the shot to protect yourself and people you hang with,” Klein-Rothschild said. “In college, so many people are close together and it’s easily spread.”

Klein-Rothschild also encouraged those with pre-existing medical conditions to receive the free vaccines.

“It’s especially important for people who have medical conditions like asthma, any respiratory problems or if they have compromised immune systems,” Klein-Rothschild said. “They should talk to physicians and see when they are eligible.”

According to a SBCPHD press release, an average of 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from serious flu-related complications in the U.S. every year.

Third-year communications major Michelle Cohen said that she was reassured to hear the clinics would be offering nasal spray vaccines.

“I am not a big fan of shots, so I was relieved to know that I could inhale it,” Cohen said. “I was told I might experience more side effects but that in the long term it is more effective in preventing the flu. Living with seven other girls, I felt it was a necessary precaution.”

Vaccines targeting the H1N1 strain are not yet available but will most likely appear by the end of October. The federal government is funding a nationwide distribution of the vaccine.

“The H1N1 vaccines are provided by the federal government at no cost to doctors, which provides them to the public at minimal cost,” Klein-Rothschild said. “We want to keep people healthy, and the government is taking initiative.”

Klein-Rothschild said that all individuals should consider receiving the H1N1 vaccine in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine.

“[The H1N1 strain] is already seen in more than 70 countries,” Klein-Rothschild said. “It’s a new strain so we don’t have immunity. This is a pandemic; it is extensive, very widespread. Our goal is to try and prevent it and keep it from getting more severe. We want to keep it from mutating.”

As previously mentioned, the flu shots will be offered to county residents free of charge. However, donations are appreciated.

Klein-Rothschild also suggested individuals ask their physicians for the vaccine or look for seasonal flu shots at Costco, Walgreens and other drug store and grocery chains. Additionally, the vaccine will be provided by Student Health and available across campus for students starting Sept. 29.