Get Your Flu Vaccine — It’s More Important than Ever!

Getting+a+flu+shot+is+more+important+than+ever+due+to+the+COVID-19+pandemic%2C++said+Student+Health+Support+Coordinator+Brenna+Callahan.

Katherine Merisotis/Bates College

Getting a flu shot is more important than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Student Health Support Coordinator Brenna Callahan.

As Bates students begin to bundle up and prepare for the colder months ahead, Bates Health Services is preparing for the winter by holding this year’s flu vaccination clinic. 

The flu clinic will be held at the Underhill Arena COVID-19 testing center next week from Oct. 5-9. Students will be able to get their flu vaccines at the same time they get their COVID-19 test, without any additional appointment making.

Because Health Services is aware of both the busy schedule of students and the importance of flu vaccines as a public health measure, the 2020 flu clinic will be held for longer than last year’s clinic, which lasted for only two days. 

“We wanted to make it as convenient as possible for students to get their flu shot, so we decided to host it at the testing center, as students are already required to go there twice a week,” Brenna Callahan, the Student Health Support Coordinator and Specialist at Health Services, said. 

Getting a flu shot is more important than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“While getting a flu shot is always important, it is particularly important this year given the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our healthcare systems and resources,” Callahan said. 

Public health experts and medical professionals are concerned about the influence a flu outbreak would have on medical resources and personnel, which are already in high demand due to the pandemic. A flu outbreak on campus could potentially put a strain on Bates Health Service’s resources as well. This strain on resources could inhibit the ability for in-person classes to continue in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Bates Health Services will hold its annual flu clinic next week in Underhill Arena, allowing students to get vaccinated and tested at the same place and time. (Bates College Website)

When planning for this year’s flu season, the CDC conducted  a study that looked at influenza data reported from the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) FluNet platform from three different Southern Hemisphere countries. The  data collected was specifically centered on COVID-19’s effect on flu outbreaks. 

The Southern Hemisphere, which  already experienced their flu season back in March at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, is used to help paint a picture of what our flu season will look like at its peak between December and February. 

In the CDC’s  conclusions, only 0.06% of tests were positive for influenza between the months of April and July 2020, while in prior years they had been as high as 13.7%.  

As both the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) are airborne illnesses, similar hygiene and social distancing measures will reduce the effect the flu virus has on a population. The decrease in the number of positive cases this year is most likely attributed to the nationwide lockdowns that occurred during the months the flu virus was most active in the Southern Hemisphere. 

While the study found that  community mitigation measures are effective in reducing flu outbreaks, the CDC  still urges everyone six months and older to get vaccinated. 

“In light of the novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty of community mitigation measures, it is important to plan for seasonal influenza circulation this fall and winter,” the CDC said in their conclusion. 

Based on these findings, social distancing measures on campus may reduce the number of flu cases this year. However, unlike the countries observed in the CDC’s study, the U.S. is no longer in lockdown. Social distancing measures are not as extreme as they were back in March and it is too early to tell how  current Bates public health policies will be able to mitigate the spread of the flu. 

Callahan recommends that Bates continue the social distancing practices implemented this fall as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and the flu virus. “The ways we protect ourselves from the spread of COVID-19 – masking, keeping physical distance, and hand hygiene – are also strategies to prevent the spread of the flu,” Callahan said. 

Similar to COVID-19, the flu virus can affect some members of the community more than others. “Getting your flu shot is one thing we can each do to help to protect ourselves, others, and our full community,” Callahan stated. 

For those who are unable to get their flu shots at the testing center the week of Oct. 5, Health Services is offering  additional vaccination opportunities. To make an appointment, students can call Bates Health Services at (207)-786-6199 during business hours. 

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection; getting a flu vaccination next week will allow for enough time before the height of the flu season for immunity to develop. 

The CDC recommends a new flu shot every year for two reasons. One, immunity from a vaccination declines over time, and two, because the flu virus is constantly changing. 

A new flu vaccine is developed every year based on the types, or strains, of viruses that are emerging for that season. The flu shot can both reduce the likelihood that you will get sick with the flu and the severity of your symptoms if you do get sick.