For many people, the changing leaf colors mean football, pumpkin picking and apple cobblers.
But for infectious disease experts, autumn takes on a different meaning this year: it is a time when two major viruses — COVID and the flu — will come to a head.
At UB, administrators are preparing for the flu season by running on-campus clinics for the influenza vaccine and connecting students with off-campus pharmacies — many of which are located in retail and grocery stores — that offer the shot.
John Sellick Jr., an epidemiologist at Kaleida Health and a professor of medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said this year’s flu vaccine will be critical. The annual flu season typically occurs in the fall and winter, and peaks from December to February.
“It will be especially important this year since the symptoms of flu and COVID are very difficult to distinguish from one another,” Sellick said. “Minimizing the amount of flu circulating in the community will be very important to keep everyone healthy and to help us sort out the possible occurrence of additional COVID cases.”
College students historically have among the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found in 2017 that just 46% of college students aged 18 to 24 typically take the flu vaccine.
Sellick said it would be a mistake for students to assume they are not at-risk.
“I think the general feeling of most college kids is that they are healthy and not at risk of complications,” Sellick said. “[But] complications do happen even though they are infrequent.”
People are usually contagious with the flu in the “first three to four days after their illness begins,” according to the CDC. Even if students feel they are in a low-risk age bracket for severe symptoms of the flu, there is still reason to believe they could transmit it to high-risk individuals, Sellick said.
“It is always important to get a flu shot even when you’re young and healthy,” Sellick said. “Some young people will develop complications from [the] flu and certainly you could bring this home to others who may be at higher risk.”
During the 2020-21 flu season, retail stores across the U.S. will offer three vaccines: the inactivated vaccine, the recombinant vaccine and the live attenuated vaccine.
People can also receive the quadrivalent vaccine (containing four different strains of the flu virus: two Type A and two Type B) or the trivalent vaccine (containing three different strains of the flu virus: two Type A and one type B).
UB has been operating an on-campus flu clinic sponsored by Health Services throughout October and November. Clinic dates are open to students, faculty and staff. Students are asked to bring their health insurance card (most insurances cover the vaccine) and UB ID with them.
UB will be hosting on-campus flu clinics on the following dates, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.:
- Thursday, Oct. 15 — Diefendorf Hall, Room 7
- Tuesday, Oct. 20 — Diefendorf Hall, Room 7
- Wednesday, Oct. 21 — Jacobs School of Medicine, Room 1228
- Thursday, Oct. 22 — Student Union, Social Hall 215
- Tuesday, Oct. 27 — Student Union, Social Hall 215
- Wednesday, Oct. 28 — Diefendorf Hall, Room 7
- Thursday, Oct. 29 — Jacobs School of Medicine, Room 1228
- Tuesday, Nov. 3 — Jacobs School of Medicine, Room 1228
- Wednesday, Nov. 4 — Student Union, Social Hall 215
- Thursday, Nov. 5 — Diefendorf Hall, Room 7
- Tuesday, Nov. 10 — Diefendorf Hall, Room 7
- Wednesday, Nov. 11 — Jacobs School of Medicine, Room 1228
- Thursday, Nov. 12 — Student Union, Social Hall 215
- Tuesday, Nov. 17 — Student Union, Social Hall 215
- Wednesday, Nov. 18 — Diefendorf Hall, Room 7
- Thursday, Nov. 19 — Jacobs School of Medicine, Room 1228
Nicole McDermott, a health education specialist at UB, said she encourages students on the fence to “just go ahead and do it.”
“It is very important that all UB community members get the flu vaccine this year,” said McDermott. “With COVID and the flu circulating at the same time, the smart thing to do is eliminate/reduce your risks any way you can. Getting the flu shot is one great way to do that.”
Justin Weiss is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.