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December 1, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 33°F

Opinion

Open Letter: Flu POD is an effective way to vaccinate community

For nearly a decade, Ithaca College students and faculty in the public and community health major have partnered with the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, Ithaca College Human Resources, the Hammond Health Center, Tompkins County Public Health Department (TCHD) and the Central NY Medical Reserve Corps to offer annual flu shots to the entire campus community. In 2019, we received a national award as a model program.

In a typical year, we have been able to immunize 1,000plus faculty, staff and students in a four to five-hour period with an average waiting time of approximately five minutes. This process provided a quick and easy way to immunize nearly 15% of the campus. Many have come to rely on this point of dispensing (POD) for their annual flu shot.

This program is one of the only programs in the country managed by undergraduates in partnership with local public health disaster preparedness teams and the Medical Reserve Corps.

Our public and community health majors begin preparation early in the fall semester. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to run the POD in a modified way.

Given the success of this initiative, we were surprised to learn Sept. 16 that the president’s cabinet made the decision to not support the flu shot POD this year. This was then announced to the faculty through Intercom a week later Sept. 22.

As a department with majors in health sciences and public and community health, we are obligated to ask the senior leadership to reconsider this decision and to work with health center and Cayuga Medical Center staff to make it happen as soon as possible. If not this year, then certainly in years to come.

Our community is not out of COVID-19.

Active COVID-19 cases on campus are very difficult to accurately measure because of factors like home testing, avoidance of isolation and quarantine fatigue. As people move indoors during the colder months, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) predicts a possible COVID-19 surge. This surge would coincide with the typical seasonal flu. This year, experts are predicting a severe flu season partly because, during the past two winters, very few people were infected with flu, which resulted in lower levels of immunity.

While no vaccination is ever 100% effective, the seasonal flu vaccination is about 60% effective most of the time. It is still the single best way to protect against the flu.

Easy access is critical. Providing a quick and easy way for students, faculty and staff to be immunized against seasonal influenza is consistent with effective public health practices. This is particularly true for students. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Survey conducted by Harris Poll (2016), flu vaccination rates on U.S. campuses currently hover from 8–39%, well below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 70%. Most students believe that it’s important to be vaccinated, however, less than half (46%) say they typically get vaccinated. When asked for ways to increase the likelihood of getting a flu shot, 61% cited “easy access at low or no cost.” We understand that students have always had the option of making an appointment for a flu shot at the Hammond Health Center, but this is far less effective in terms of campus resources.

Access through local pharmacies and health care providers are other options for the campus community. This requires making an appointment, transportation to and from, and may require some payment. All these are barriers that affect the decision to be immunized.

We also would like to address the communication related to this decision.

Faculty in public and community health have expertise and experience with POD design, management and efficiency. We also have access to networks within the public health community that could assist with both personnel and resources, the two reasons cited to us for the flu POD cancellation. In addition, there is a standing POD committee on campus that includes faculty, staff from the Health Center, public safety, human resources, representatives from the TCHD and the Central NY Medical Reserve Corps. This group has been very effective at pulling together our POD annually.

The public and community health faculty and this volunteer committee were both unaware of this decision until Sept. 16 and only after several inquiries. We wanted to be able to bring these resources to the table, to assist in solving the barriers to this year’s flu POD. The college’s flu POD is something that is unique and sets us apart from campuses like Cornell University and SUNY Cortland who partner with Wegmans. We hope that this can remain a point of pride and that we re-initiate the process next fall. However, this will only happen by using the existing lines of communication between the final decision makers and the faculty and standing POD committee.

Whether administrators, faculty, staff or students, we all share a commonly held value to promote and protect campus health and safety. This POD is a high-impact, low-cost and effective way to ensure that we as a campus community practice thoughtful, equitable and forward-facing prevention strategies that align with best public health practices.

Faculty in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education:

Mary Bentley, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Stewart Auyash, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Amy Frith, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Kari Brossard Stoos, department associate chair and associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Deborah Wuest, professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Phoebe Constantinou, professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Raj Subramaniam, professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Elizabeth Bergman, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Mary Ann Erickson, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education

Hongwei Guan, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education and director of the China Ex Program