Rite-Aid is one of many locations where students can receive their flu shots. Lehigh's Health and Wellness Center is not running their vaccination clinic this year while the university continues to scale back campus activity. (Jessica Mellon/BW Staff)

Students debate whether to get flu vaccine amid COVID-19


Many medical experts are continuing to encourage college students and all individuals to protect themselves against the flu this season, despite transmission reduction measures already in place because of COVID-19.

Laura Lacher, a certified clinical specialist for GE Healthcare, said, although social distancing helps prevent exposure, it is still a good practice for students to get their flu shots.  

“Students (who) social distance at school may not social distance outside of school, and, if not vaccinated, could still be vulnerable to catching influenza in other situations and spreading it in the community and in school,” Lacher said.

Lacher said she understands some of the reservations people may have about receiving a flu shot, including those about efficacy and incomplete protection. 

“Even if the virus strain differs from the circulating strain, it seems to confer some protection and generally individuals have a milder flu if they have received the vaccine of a different strain,” she said. 

This means even an imperfect vaccination for the flu has the power to protect large groups of people and reduce spread.

Lacher said the most effective way to control the spread of the flu is by adding several practices together, including wearing masks, hand hygiene and vaccination.

Because of increased measures to protect against COVID-19, some students expressed doubt toward the importance of taking the time to get a flu shot. Lehigh’s Health and Wellness Center, in breaking with tradition in the past, is not running vaccination clinics this year, citing the decision to scale back campus activities.

That decision has at least impacted Austin Tarpey, ‘24, who lives on campus and is undecided on whether or not to get a flu shot. 

“If it wasn’t free, (I would) absolutely not (get the flu vaccine),” he said. 

Jonathan Stone, ‘24, who lives on campus, said he was concerned about how the flu will impact COVID-19 cases, predicting an uptick due to the fact that students tend to be more vulnerable during the winter months. 

This reflects a concern that a flu shot may decrease the body’s capacity to deal with other diseases, with COVID-19 being the most prevalent example right now. This concern, however, has been debunked by the CDC. 

Stone said he would probably get a flu shot when he leaves campus for the semester.

“I don’t want to get either disease, but I’m definitely in a healthier state than other people,” Tarpey said. “My main concern is for those who might not be as healthy.”

Tarpey said he does not typically get flu shots, and, unless he is required to by the university, he will likely forego it. 

Student concerns about getting a flu shot include the effort of getting one, preconceived beliefs about safety measures already put in place because of COVID-19 and the potential for a weakened immune system.

But although the vaccine may not be perfect, medical professionals continue to warn students about the importance of protecting themselves against the flu this year, just as they would any other year.

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