As of midday, Friday more than 350 people had protected themselves from the ravages of the influenza virus by receiving a vaccination as part of the annual Mass Flu Clinic held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

As of midday, Friday more than 350 people had protected themselves from the ravages of the influenza virus by receiving a vaccination as part of the annual Mass Flu Clinic held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Elaine Sims, acting clinic coordinator for the Jefferson County Health Unit of the Arkansas Department of Health, said her organization began administering the vaccinations at 7 a.m. and was to continue doing so until 6 p.m.

"Every year we invite the public to come in and get their flu shots," Sims said. "We bill insurance for those who have it but for today everybody who comes in can get a flu shot whether they can pay for it or not."

Sims said the coming winter flu season is anticipated to be severe.

"We want our community to be healthy throughout the winter months," Sims said. "Whenever people shake hands they are at risk of coming in contact with the influenza virus, so getting vaccinated just makes sense."

Sims said people between the ages of 2 and 49 have the option of receiving the vaccine in a mist form as opposed to an injection.

"For those younger than 2 and older than 49 the injection is used because it is more effective than the mist," Sims said. "We are just excited to have so many people taking advantage of this service we are providing."

Quranner Cotledge is the administrator of the Jefferson County Health Unit.

"We had people waiting for us when we opened at 7 a.m.," Cotledge said. "So it has been going real well. We are so thankful to the Convention Center for allowing us the use of this facility. For the first time this year we also have various health care providers available to people where they can get their blood sugar and cholesterol levels checked and sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act if they don’t have any. There are more than 15,000 people in Jefferson County without health insurance, so this will really help a lot of people."

Cotledge said the flu clinic is part of the health department’s emergency preparedness effort.

"We also use this as a training exercise in the event of an emergency situation that requires mass vaccinations of the public in a short amount of time," Cotledge said.

Cotledge praised the work of the many people whose volunteer efforts made the flu clinic possible.

"We have nurses from the county health department and from Southeast Arkansas College who are here volunteering their time," Cotledge said. "Walmart and Brookshire’s provided food and water for our volunteers working here today. Jefferson County is known as a community that gives back. I can’t overemphasize enough the degree of partnership in this community. We had city and county government working closely with our churches on this project to get the word out to people."

Kathy Thomason came to get her flu shot to protect family.

"I have a father at home who can’t get sick and so I can’t get sick," Thomason said. "I work so I don’t want to bring anything home with me."

Kathy Kentle wanted the protection of a flu shot for peace of mind.

"I live alone and if I get sick the only person to take care of me is me," Kentle said. "So I wanted to get my flu shot as a preventative measure."

Eva McGee is with the Arkansas Department of Health and is an Affordable Care Act certified assister.

"They actually told me that I was the first person in Arkansas to become a licensed assister," McGee said. "I am so glad to be here today. We go wherever we can find the foot traffic. I am concerned about protecting the health of the people of Arkansas and this flu clinic and the ability to provide affordable health insurance are both important in achieving that goal."

McGee said she had signed up one person under the ACA and had scheduled appointments with another 13 people as of 1 p.m. Friday.

"Most of the people we are seeing are below the federal poverty level and many of them are unemployed," McGee said. "So the ACA is not perfect but nothing is. I believe that it is the best thing America has had since Social Security."

McGee said she retired after 45 years with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff but returned to the workforce in order to be a part of the ACA rollout.

"This is our opportunity to give back," McGee said. "I wanted to be part of this. I know how important access to affordable health care is."

Angela Turner is with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences South Central in Pine Bluff.

"We are here today to teach people about the importance of health literacy," Turner said. "This means being able to understand what the medications you are taking do and what the effects of potential interactions can be. A lot of people that come to the doctor are confused about this."

Turner was providing visitors to her table with a card inside a pouch with a clear plastic front.

"The card is for people to write down all of their prescription and non-prescription drugs that they are taking so they can bring it to their doctor along with all of their medications," Turner said. "There are also several questions printed on the card that will help patients remember what to ask while they are with their doctor."

Beverly Cotledge and Alicia Brown were volunteering their time as members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

"We are a service organization so we are here serving our community," Brown said.

"We are here to help wherever there is a need," Cotledge said.

Karey Russell and Latasha Carpenter are both nursing students in the SEARK LPN program.

"We are volunteering today in order to gain more practical experience," Russell said. "I’ll be graduating in December and will then start in the RN program."

"We are doing this to serve the community and to help people understand what they need to do to stay well during flu season," Carpenter said. "I will be graduating in May from the LPN program and also plan to transition into the RN program."

Joyce F. Smith of Tri County Rural Health Network Inc. said that she had told quite a few people about the flu clinic.

"Part of what I do is let people know about events like this," Smith said.