The oncoming cold weather brings not only flu season, but also extra challenges because it will overlap with the COVID-19 pandemic.
IU will require all students, staff and faculty whose work or class schedule requires them regularly to be on campus to get a flu vaccine and report it to the university for the remainder of the fall 2020 semester and subsequent flu season, according to an IU press release.
Beginning in October, IU will provide on-campus clinics for vaccines should enrolled students or current staff and faculty choose to go through the university. IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said members of the IU community can receive a vaccination at most local retail pharmacies as well.
Because flu season in the U.S. peaks between December and February, IU will be requiring this vaccination in attempts to limit simultaneous infection with the seasonal flu and COVID-19.
However, if students, staff or faculty are unable to get the vaccine due to a medical condition, or have a religious or ethical reason, they can request an exemption. Employees and students who will not be present on campus between Dec. 1 and March 1 can also request an exemption. Unless an exemption form is submitted, the flu vaccine must be obtained by Dec. 1.
Carney said a website will be available for students to submit documentation of their vaccination or fill out the exemption request form.
Dr. Lana Dbeibo is an infectious disease physician and part of the IU Medical Response Team. She said getting the flu vaccine is imperative now more than ever to ensure maximum safety among staff and students this upcoming flu season.
“My biggest advice is get it,” she said. “The more we can prevent the preventable illnesses, the better we are as far as keeping ourself and our community safe and healthy. I think there are a lot of diseases and illnesses that are not preventable or harder to prevent, and I think this is one that is preventable, so we have to focus on that.”
Dbeibo said although some experts assert the coronavirus measures might make for a lighter flu season, we still need to take all the necessary precautions to keep communities safe.
“If people don’t follow the science and they don’t vaccinate and they rely on some reports of optimism, I think that would be my concern,” she said. “Those reports of optimism are reliant on the fact that we take our vaccines and that we do all the proper methods, because otherwise we will have potentially a bad flu season in addition to a potential COVID season, so that optimism is hinging on proper following guidelines.”
Graham McKeen, the assistant university director of public and environmental health, said getting a flu vaccine is not only a medical responsibility, but also a social responsibility.
“It’s just kind of like wearing a mask and agreeing to be tested for surveillance or mitigation,” he said. “It’s about public health, it’s about population health and it’s about empathy. Things like simple cloth masks, hand washing, social distancing and getting the flu shot are some of the best things we can do.”
Dr. Cole Beeler, a member of the IU COVID-19 Medical Response Team, said during this flu season it’s important to limit respiratory syndromes that could be consistent with COVID-19 because they utilize the same testing, quarantine, and hospital resources and infrastructure COVID-19 patients require.
“If they are used up in response to influenza outbreaks, we won’t be able to adequately respond to COVID, which doesn’t have a treatment or a vaccine,” Beeler said.
Junior Evelyn Sanchez gets a flu shot almost every year. She said although it makes her feel more comfortable, she understands why some communities might be distrusting of health care and should therefore be allowed to request an exemption.
“Especially with the sterilization that’s been going on in ICE, it just brought up that conversation about how health care has been very disadvantaged to communities of color,” she said.
Sanchez said regardless, as many students should get the vaccine as possible to maintain COVID-19 testing resources and avoid confusion between flu and COVID-19 symptoms.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry with the vaccine and just one less health thing to worry about compared to what’s been going on with COVID,” she said.
Brandon Barnes contributed to this reporting.
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