Ithaca College normally holds an annual flu vaccination Point of Dispensing (POD) exercise, where hundreds of students and faculty get vaccinated in one day, but the POD event for the 2021–22 academic year is not yet confirmed.
The POD event has been run by the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education and the Tompkins County Health Department since 2013. This year’s event is tentatively set for Oct. 12, said Mary Bentley, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education and the main faculty member in charge of running the event. Currently, students are able to schedule an appointment for a flu shot Monday through Friday at the Hammond Health Center. There are appointments available and the flu shot is free for students at the health center.
Ellyn Selin-Sellers, physician and medical services director in the Center of Counseling, Health and Wellness, said she hopes the school has the flu POD, but she wants students to get a flu shot regardless of the event happening.
“I’m really steering students to come get vaccinated at the health center just to make sure they get their vaccine as soon as possible,” Selin-Sellers said.
Influenza is a virus that spreads among people from coughing and sneezing. While for most people it resolves on its own, the flu can be dangerous, especially for those who are immunocompromised or have existing medical conditions. Signs and symptoms of the flu include dry or persistent coughing, shortness of breath, weakness, a runny or stuffy nose and a sore throat which are very similar to COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Flu season in the United States runs from the fall through the winter, with most flu activity peaking between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Selin-Sellers said she thinks it is more important than ever to get a flu shot this fall.
“I think there’s a combination of things, like having the flu and COVID-19 at the same time could be a dangerous combination,” she said.
A CNN article from 2020 stated that individuals can get infected with both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time as being infected with just one weakens the immune system enough to make people more susceptible to other viruses. The Mayo Clinic stated if an individual is sick while both the flu and COVID-19 are spreading in communities, testing would need to be done to determine what someone is infected with.
Many students on campus have experienced COVID-19 like symptoms, but have not actually had the coronavirus, and it takes campus resources to get sick students tested, Selin-Sellers said. Students have to be put into isolation and wait for test results to come back and often miss class during this process.
“We really want to make sure that we’re minimizing the chance of people even getting the flu, because then those are really similar symptoms to COVID-19.” Selin-Sellers said.
Freshman Lily Babcock said she gets a flu shot every year and if they are offered for free on campus she would get one this year as well.
“I feel kind of neutral or indifferent about it, like I get it every year … I probably wouldn’t get it if it wasn’t on campus,” said Babcock.
Having an event like the POD exercise where students can just drop in and do not have to schedule an appointment has been shown to increase the number of students vaccinated against the flu in years past, Bentley said. At the POD event, flu shots are free for all faculty, staff and students.
In 2018, the POD exercise on campus administered 933 flu shots and 736 shots were administered at the Hammond Health Center, Selin-Sellers said. The flu vaccination exercise is normally held in the Emerson Suites and spans four hours throughout the morning, according to the Flu Vaccination Exercise website. It is open to all faculty, staff and students at the college. In 2018, the POD exercise vaccinated 197 more students and faculty in one morning than the health center did by appointment over the course of the fall.
Freshman Mariana Garcia said she has never gotten a flu shot before and only got the necessary vaccinations for school. Garcia and her family did get the COVID-19 vaccine since her grandfather died from COVID-19. She said she doesn’t know if she will get a flu shot this year.
“I’ve never had the flu either, but if they’re available for free, I would consider it,” Garcia said.
The POD exercise has yet to be confirmed this year in part because questions remain about how staff and resources through Tompkins County and the health center on campus should be best used.
“We want to make sure that we are very carefully prioritizing our ill students, and we also want to make sure that the flu POD happens while just making sure that we’ve got appropriate staffing and resources,” Selin-Sellers said.
Bentley said that she is hopeful the event will happen, but that logistically it might run differently this year with the available staff.
“Well, the issue was going to be, you know, getting the staff in terms of the health center, and also a space … Laura Keefe, who was administrator at the health center, is only part time,” Bentley said. “So, you know, there have been some other kinds of staff reductions and things on campus that affect the way everything runs.”
According to the Flu Vaccination Exercise webpage, students fill approximately three quarters of the worker positions during the exercise, including half of the leadership positions. Some students get trained through the Central New York Regional Medical Reserve Corps. Bentley oversees the training of students who work the event.
“So, by the end of this week, I will basically have 11 people who are volunteers for the Medical Reserve Corps … so that team of, like, 10 or 11 students will be running the pod here on campus” Bentley said.
Bentley also said six or seven students who are trained will be traveling to Syracuse University on Oct. 1 to teach students how to run a POD event.
In addition to scheduling an appointment at the Hammond Health Center, flu vaccinations are available off campus at CVS Pharmacy on Clinton Street by appointment and at Walgreens on South Meadow Street with no appointment or prescription needed. Flu vaccinations are free with most insurances.