By: Wynn McDonald
Body aches. Fatigue. A fast-moving fever and a powerful dry cough that you just can’t shake.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven months, you’ve probably been on high alert for these symptoms, because they could be the harbingers of 2020’s No. 1 menace: the COVID-19 virus, which has already claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Americans this year.
However, as the weather begins to cool, identifying the virus has become even harder. That’s because fall means flu season, and every one of those symptoms comes with the flu as well. Luckily, this problem can be easily countered—or at least alleviated—simply by getting a flu shot.
“It’s more important than ever,” said Bellarmine Director of Health Services Alice Kimble, a friendly face known to most on campus as “Nurse Alice.” “We’re trying to protect those babies [who can’t get vaccines], and we’re trying to protect older people whose immune systems don’t work as well.”
Getting a flu vaccine is the simplest way to reduce the risk of contracting those red-flag symptoms, and avoiding the stress that comes with it, according to Kimble.
“It’s almost like sending a wanted poster to your immune system,” she said. “So if it ever did come in there, it would recognize it and say, ‘we need to get rid of this before it makes us sick.’”
In a normal year, Bellarmine buys around 500 flu shots to give to students, Kimble said. This year the school purchased 650 and administered another 355 through a partnership with Walgreens. The goal is to vaccinate 1,000 students for the influenza virus, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Helen-Grace Ryan.
“We want every student who wants to get a vaccine to be able to get one without leaving campus, if at all possible,” Ryan said.
In addition to the Walgreens events, which took place on Sept. 21 and 22 in Frazier Hall, the Health Services office has held several vaccination “blitzes” in Frazier Hall, Miles Hall and Palio Dining Hall and offered walk-in hours for flu shots on Fridays. As of this article’s publication, Kimble said she had given out 324 free shots to students.
One student who attended the Walgreens event, senior Ethan Wigand, said his experience was positive. A part-time Walgreens technician himself, he made sure to mark his calendar ahead of time.
“My girlfriend and I planned the visit that Friday knowing that we had time on Monday to go get it,” Wigand said. “We are both wanting to go into the healthcare field, so we always get the flu shot to help not only protect ourselves but others around us as well.”
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, the influenza virus was involved in more than 400,000 hospitalizations and 34,000 deaths in the U.S. during the 2018-19 flu season. The CDC also advises that getting a flu shot, which only takes seconds, usually reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 and 60 percent.
“Even if you get the flu and you’ve had a flu shot, you’re likely to have a milder case that doesn’t last as long, and that makes a huge difference for a lot of people,” Kimble said. “It’s gonna keep you productive, it’s gonna keep you in class, it’s gonna keep you at work.”
Due to the similarity between influenza and COVID-19, Ryan said there has been a focused effort by Bellarmine to communicate with students on the importance and availability of flu shots on campus. However, the lack of foot traffic from reduced in-person classes this semester has been an added challenge.
“Part of it is students just aren’t milling about as much,” Ryan said. “I think just catching students when they’re not in online classes or when they’re out and about on campus is proving a little more difficult.”
This may account for a drop in attendance at this year’s blitzes, according to senior Katelyn Rapson, a Health Services student worker and nursing student who has helped with the events all four years.
“You can tell just in the parking lot, there’s not a lot of people here anymore,” Rapson said.
Despite this obstacle, the university is steadily making progress toward the goal of 1,000 on-campus vaccinations. Counting the Walgreens shots, the total is nearly 700. This total was made possible in part by an increased allotment from SGA, which paid for 600 shots, up from around 450 in a normal year.
“We wanted to support it in any way we can,” said senior Robbie Jones, SGA’s vice president of recreation, intramural and athletic affairs, who has sponsored the flu shot bill at assembly for the last two years. “We know that 450 usually goes out like this, so with everything going on, just making sure we had more numbers to help.”
Fall bugs have many symptoms, but with a flu shot, COVID-19 anxiety doesn’t have to be one of them. The last planned flu shot blitz was held in Palio on Wednesday, October 14, but more may be added depending on student feedback, Kimble said. Otherwise, she encouraged students to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated in the clinic any time by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.