The University will require all students to receive a flu vaccination by Jan. 20, 2022. To facilitate this requirement, which began in the 2020-2021 academic year, the University has arranged for students to receive flu shots in Usdan University Center on Tuesday, Oct. 19, Thursday, Oct. 21, and Wednesday, Oct. 27, according to a campus-wide email from Medical Director Dr. Thomas McLarney and Pandemic Planning Committee Chair Rick Culliton.
McLarney and the pandemic planning team decided to keep the influenza vaccine mandate from last year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the high transmissibility of the delta variant which, combined with increased flu cases, could overwhelm campus health resources.
“The unpredictability of the delta variant of [COVID-19]…can certainly worsen as the colder weather comes into New England,” McLarney wrote in an email to The Argus. “During the winter months, people spend more time indoors in areas of decreased ventilation and transmission of contagion is increased. The spread of influenza would increase for the same reasons.”
The University has purchased 1,200 doses of the flu vaccine, the same number as last year. Middlesex Homecare will provide the supplies and nursing staff to facilitate immunization, according to Director of University Health Center Joyce Walter.
“Due to the supplies we receive, I believe we can immunize at least 1/3 of the student body,” Walter wrote in an email to The Argus. “This will not be a problem. The overall supply of the flu vaccine will be abundant, local and home pharmacies all stock and administer the vaccine as well as local health department clinics.”
Registration for flu shot appointments opened for students on Oct. 6, and all spots were filled within a few hours. Faculty and students who do not get a flu shot on campus can obtain them from local pharmacies, clinics, or other health care providers and must upload their vaccination paperwork via WesPortal starting in late October.
Due to high demand, on-campus appointments filled faster than expected, making it difficult for students to get flu shots on campus. Alex Brotman ’23, who received a flu vaccine on campus last year, was unable to schedule an appointment because slots filled up so quickly. Brotman plans to get his flu vaccine off-campus during fall break.
“I didn’t even see the email until after everything was booked, so I couldn’t try to get an appointment,” Brotman said.
Evan Steinberg ’23 was also unable to book an appointment on campus and now plans to get his dose at a local pharmacy. Steinberg expressed frustration with how quickly vaccine appointments on campus ran out.
“Ideally, they wouldn’t run out of vaccines before everyone who wanted one could get one,” Steinberg said.
Walter believes that many students will opt to get their flu vaccine over winter break before they return for the spring semester.
“This was what we did last year and it worked very well,” Walter wrote. “In past years we would have a number of flu shot clinics on campus and when it is not mandatory [we] typically have about 275 students opt to get their flu shot on campus.”
For future years, McLarney says, it is still up in the air on whether the flu vaccine mandate will stay in place or not.
“If we are still being challenged by this pandemic, I can foresee this mandate continuing,” McLarney wrote. “Last year, we saw very little flu activity. This will be something we will be monitoring this year. The low activity flu season we had last year could be due to the flu vaccine mandate, compliance with masking and hand washing, the natural history of last year’s flu strains, or a combination of all.”
Cameron Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.