All students on campus and those planning to return next semester must receive a flu vaccination by Jan. 20, 2021, in accordance with a new University mandate. The University is setting up four separate flu shot clinics in Bacon Field House within the Freeman Athletic Center to administer vaccinations from Monday, Oct. 12 through Thursday, Oct. 15.
The University is requiring vaccinations to make it easier to determine whether a student has the flu or COVID-19, as many of the symptoms overlap.
“If we could eliminate as much influenza as we can, it’s going to help us to in the diagnosis [of COVID-19], and of course, add on all the winter viruses that are out there that make us all sick at one time or another, which confuses the matter even more,” Davidson Health Center Medical Director Dr. Tom McLarney, M.D. said. “If we have a proverbial second wave of COVID in the early part of 2021 [and] a very heavy flu season, it could be devastating.”
The University has 1,200 shots, most of which will be administered mid-October to students who register for a time slot. Students who register to get vaccinated on campus need to bring their WesID and flu permission form when they go to the clinic. If there are excess vaccines, the Davidson Health Center will determine a future date to administer the remaining shots.
The University is collaborating with Middlesex Hospital Homecare, which purchased the vaccines themselves and will help hire nurses who work for their department to help administer them. From Monday, Oct. 12 through Wednesday, Oct. 14, the shots will be administered from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.. On Thursday, Oct. 15, the four clinics will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Really you should be getting your flu shot in the fall before the flu hits,”Davidson Health Center Director Joyce Walter said. “If you don’t get it and you haven’t had the flu, of course any time is better than nothing, but getting it mid-October gives you enough time for it to last through what could be February or early March with the flu season.”
If a student wants to get a vaccine at a local pharmacy or from their health care provider, they need to send a confirmation that they received their shot and any other relevant paperwork to Walter at email@example.com. According to McLarney, a student can only receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons permitted by Connecticut law.
Under normal circumstances, the University does not mandate that every student receives a flu vaccine. Instead, in past years, the staff at Davidson Health Center have recommended that immunocompromised or at-risk students recieve a flu shot. Typically, the University administers between 550-600 flu doses per academic year to students, staff, and faculty.
However, due to the limited number of vaccines, the University will not be supplying vaccines to staff and faculty this year.
“This year, since we don’t have enough, we were unable to receive enough vaccines to even cover all the students, and [so] we are just offering it to the students exclusively this year,” McLarney said.
While many students agree that the mandatory vaccination is necessary, concerns have been raised about the shortage of vaccines. Some students believe that the University should be supplying more vaccines to individuals who are not able to secure a time slot in the clinic, including faculty and staff.
“It is concerning that this year the clinic won’t be open to faculty and staff,” Megan Levan ’22 wrote in an email to The Argus. “Wesleyan should provide vaccinations for the entire student body and all faculty and staff if they are requiring that everyone receive them. It is especially difficult for people to get off campus this semester. If the university is requiring people to go to local pharmacies when they run out of vaccines, they should provide transportation to these locations and a simple and expedited reimbursement process.”
In addition, students have also voiced concerns about how they will pay for the vaccine if they are on a private insurance plan and not the University’s health insurance plan.
“Those who have other kinds of insurance can take the first shots here and they will file their forms to their insurance, but that all comes as a financial constraint,” Eugene Gato Nsengamungu ’23 said. “If it’s mandatory, I feel like the University should find a way of helping those people too. Because I feel, depending on how financial family’s are, people may have no interest to pay. If you’re poor, you have no choice to choose.”
Unlike students who have the University’s insurance plan, who will be covered if they receive a vaccination on campus, students with private insurance will need to file for reimbursement with their insurance company.
“If you have the insurance plan that coincides with Wesleyan, then the shot is $40 and it’s going to be covered by private insurance, you will get a statement that you can then file,” Walter said. “If a student does not like the hassle of getting charged and then getting reimbursed, think about the pharmacy because they will bill your insurance. There’ll be no copay, no out of pocket. It’s kind of a win-win.”
With the time frame to get vaccinated approaching, many students have responded positively to the mandate, believing that it will help protect the University’s student population at large.
“I definitely see the benefits with regards to the new mandate,” Levan wrote. “Because the flu and COVID symptoms can be easily confused, it seems like having another layer of protection against the flu will help prevent unnecessary quarantining for students who might have concerning symptoms but have the flu rather than COVID.”
For Gato Nsengamungu, getting a flu shot is an important way to protect members of the University community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like we survive because of these people around us,” Gato Nsengamungu said. “If other people are helping me survive, then it’s my time to take my shot to also prevent them [from getting sick].”
Oliver Cope can be reached at Ocope@wesleyan.edu