The College has ramped up its effort to get students, faculty, and staff vaccinated for the flu in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, providing free vaccine clinics on campus.
When students arrived on campus in August, they were required to sign the Mule Pledge, in which they agreed to adhere to the College’s COVID-19 policy. The majority of this policy has to do with COVID-19: getting tested twice a week, wearing a mask, and staying in the State of Maine. One particular stipulation of the policy is less directly related to the coronavirus and focused on another virus: Colby community members are required to get an influenza vaccine.
Colby Medical Director Scott Lowman explained in an email to The Colby Echo that getting a flu shot was included in COVID-19 policy because it can decrease the burden on a healthcare system already strained by the pandemic.
The lowered risk of contracting influenza that a flu vaccine provides decreases the chances of hospitalization or “unnecessary medical visits” due to the flu and keeps the amount of respiratory illnesses as low as possible during the
Lowman also said that if a patient has been vaccinated against the flu, it can provide “clarity for medical providers by reducing symptom overlap between influenza and coronavirus.”
Head Nurse of Garrison Foster Health Center Judy Whyte told The Colby Echo that flu season in the United States starts at the end of August.
She said that testing capacity could be strained if not enough people get flu shots and that the risk of catching both diseases at once is a concern as well.
Students seem to have absorbed the message that it is more important than ever to get vaccinated against influenza this year. Morgan Honor `22 said that while she does not like getting shots at all, she knew it was the right thing to do.
“It is extremely important when we’re living in a global pandemic. Flu is probably going to be just as bad this year as in any year and on top of that [is] COVID, so if we can eliminate one of them, that would be great,” Honor said.
The College has committed $60,000 to get the community vaccinated. Flu shot clinics will continue to be held on campus as Winslow Pharmacy, which is providing the vaccines, gets more doses.
Matt Reasor `20J has been working at the flu clinics, helping students fill out release forms and directing traffic. According to Reasor, after the first cycle of testing in late Sept. there was still a significant gap in flu shot coverage on campus.
“There were quite a few Colby students who didn’t know about it or didn’t get it so we have a rerun this week,” Reasor explained.
Reasor said that, from his perspective, he’s not sure how many more Colby students will need to get a shot after this cycle.
“But,” he added, “I think they’re going to be going on until everyone does because it’s in the Mule Pledge.”
Students who get a flu shot outside of these on-campus clinics can report that they got vaccinated by submitting their vaccination record to the medical student health portal on my.colby.edu or by mailing it through on-campus mail to PO Box 4460.
Lowman shared that the College has vaccinated 1,126 people so far through the clinics held on Sept. 21, 22, and 23. This is slightly higher than the amount of people vaccinated against the flu in the past: in the 2019-2020 academic year, 1,075 people were vaccinated and in the 2018-2019 academic year 1,029 were. 789 of those vaccinations were given to students last year and 750 were students the year before.
This year, 803 of those who have gotten a shot at Colby were students, including Laura Drepanos `23.
Drepanos said that she’s gotten vaccinated against the flu every year except for last year, which was her first year at the College, so this was her first time getting the shot away from home.
Despite an aversion to needles, Drepanos believes the shots are necessary to protect the community.
“I feel like it’s something I need to do as someone who can get flu shots to keep people who can’t get flu shots safe,” Drepanos said.
She reported that the experience went well.
“The man who gave me the flu shot could tell that I was trying to not think about it and made a good effort to distract me, which really helped,” Drepanos said.
Drepanos appreciated the College’s efforts to make it easy for students, faculty, and staff to get vaccinated against the flu.
“I thought it was a good idea- as much as I hate getting shots, the last thing Colby needs this year is a flu outbreak,” she said.
Another student, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that she has not gotten a flu shot in the past, but that she felt a sense of responsibility this year which motivated her to go to head down to the testing tent and get vaccinated.
The student explained that the knowledge the vaccine is not always 100% effective colored her view of flu shots before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[I] always viewed the flu shot as optional,” she explained.
She said that she opted out of the vaccine because she thought it would not work and it would not matter if she did get sick.
“I figured if I got the flu it would not be that big of a deal, without realizing the cost it would have on my community,” she said. “Now, during a coronavirus world, I am aware of the necessity to get my flu shot in order to have a healthy and safe community.”
The student said that getting her shot took her ten minutes and was a smooth process.
Lowman acknowledged the shortcomings of the flu shot:
“Though the influenza immunization does not protect everyone vaccinated, it certainly helps in reducing the rates of influenza.”
This reduction, as explained above, is key to maintaining the healthcare system’s ability to fight COVID-19.
Drepanos reflected on how this year’s flu shot process could relate to future COVID-19 vaccinations on campus.
“The process of getting a flu shot here could not have been easier,” Drepanos said, “so it would be great if a potential future COVID-19 vaccine was administered in a similar way.”
Honor said that the process of getting a flu shot at the College made her nervous about what the process could look like if the same had to be done for a vaccine against COVID-19.
However, she said, “I trust results and I trust science so I will do it,” she said.
~ Sonia Lachter ‘22