“The only thing you doctors care about is money.”
That remark from a patient stung Knoxville physician Charlie Barnett when he heard it 26 years ago. So he joined forces with colleague Dr. Bob Montgomery and other local doctors to prove otherwise.
“We said, ‘Let’s give away flu shots,’” he recalls, and in 1991 they began Flu Shot Saturday, now a yearly fall event vaccinating thousands of area residents at no cost.
Every location dispensing flu shots also accepts donations to the Knoxville News Sentinel newspaper’s Empty Stocking Fund, which distributes Christmas goodies to underprivileged children.
“It’s win-win for everyone,” Dr. Barnett says. “It’s a great experience and atmosphere. The shots are administered by volunteer nurses from the University of Tennessee Nursing School. The Rotary Club makes it a real community project, and people who come know us and know each other.
“It’s almost a festive occasion despite the fact that everyone is there to get a shot!”
By turning a medical procedure into an event, Flu Shot Saturday succeeded beyond expectations:
Until last year, Knox County had long been the only county in the state that didn’t have to shut down schools due to flu outbreaks.
And the Federal Agency on Aging noted that Knox County senior citizens have a greater flu shot rate than surrounding areas, whether from the event itself or from their own doctors.
“The publicity from Flu Shot Saturday increases awareness for everyone,” says Dr. Barnett.
“That’s important, because 20,000 people a year die from influenza. It’s a serious illness.”