Perform a 'small act of heroism' by getting a free flu shot on campus
The COVID-19 pandemic is still in full swing, but the flu season is just beginning to ramp up.
As a result, "flu vaccination clinics will operate a little different this year," says Cindy Davis, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Life & Work Connections, which facilitates campus vaccination clinics for University employees and their dependents.
Getting vaccinated against each year's strain of seasonal influenza helps lower transmission levels, which means fewer deaths, hospitalizations, illnesses and missed days of work and school.
"With the enduring COVID-19 pandemic, hospital bed capacity and health care personnel staffing has been strained substantially," said Kate Ellingson, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. "Hospitalizations increase every year during flu season, which could push hospitals back into crisis care mode if there is an onslaught of both influenza and COVID cases concurrently."
What if someone is infected with both flu virus and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19?
"We do not know what the consequences would look like, but I can almost be certain it's not going to look good," Jun Wang, associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, whose research interests include flu viruses as well as the novel coronavirus, said in an article was published on the Health Sciences Connect website. "Normally, a viral infection will cause inflammation and weaken the immune response, so there's a fairly good chance that co-infection with these two viruses would lead to severe consequences. To prevent that, we should get the flu shot. At least, this would minimize the complications of co-infection."
To prevent coronavirus spread and encourage flu vaccinations, campus clinics will be held outside with social distancing guidelines and face covering requirements in place.
Another change is that walk-ins will not be permitted. Appointments must be scheduled online. Consent forms are available online to print and fill out before arriving at a clinic. While University employees do not need to bring proof of insurance for a vaccination, it is required for dependents, Davis said.
Campus clinics – which begin Sept. 23 and run through early November – will be offered at several locations on the main campus, including the Main Library and the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building. A clinic also will be held at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus.
Davis encourages everyone to get the shot as soon as they can. If you can't make it to campus, other options are to get the shot at participating grocery stores or Healthwaves locations. Healthwaves is a health and wellness service provider.
Flu vaccinations are free as part of the University's benefits package. Almost everyone over 6 months old is encouraged to be vaccinated, but the University-facilitated clinics must refer dependents younger than 4 to pediatricians to be vaccinated.
"The flu shot helps protect you as well as other members of the community, including those who cannot get vaccinated because of their age or underlying conditions," Ellingson said. "In addition, don't forget the bread-and-butter measures of hand hygiene, staying home if you feel sick and following COVID-19 prevention recommendations. Wearing a cloth face covering and practicing social distancing to prevent COVID transmission will prevent flu transmission as well."
Ellingson also addressed a few common misconceptions about the flu vaccine.
Effectiveness: "Because the season-to-season variation in the flu virus is not entirely predictable, some seasons the vaccine is more effective than others," Ellingson said. "That said, even partial protection on a population level means fewer people become infected, and given that there are tens of millions of flu illnesses each year in the U.S., even small gains in transmission reduction can result in substantial reduction in the burden of disease."
Side effects: While mild side effects from the flu vaccine – such as sore muscles, nausea, headache, soreness at injection site – are common, severe side effects are extremely rare, she said. Babies younger than 6 months old and people severely allergic to any ingredients often found in vaccines, like eggs, should refrain from vaccination.
Infection from vaccination: The vaccine cannot give you the flu, Ellingson stressed. "The vaccine contains inactivated, partial or altered forms of the virus that do not cause disease," she said. "Rather, these components stimulate your immune system to produce antibodies that may help protect you from the real form of the virus should you become infected."
This year in particular, Ellingson says, "getting a flu shot is a small act of heroism because it can save lives and help our health care facilities, which have been operating under thin staffing and resources for some time now."
More information about campus vaccination clinics is available on the Life & Work Connections website.