UHS will provide flu vaccinations this fall

By Nikoleta Nikova

The University of Massachusetts is responding to the high number of flu infections predicted by the Center for Disease Control by offering vaccination clinics across the campus this fall.

Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian

Up to 20 percent of the U.S. population will contract the flu this year, according to the CDC. Ann Becker, public health nurse at University Health Services, said that to help prevent students from getting the disease, UHS will be holding flu vaccination clinics over the next couple of months. There are going to be walk-in clinics at UHS as well as mobile clinics in the Campus Center and some dorms. Most of these clinics will be held during the month of October, but there will be a few in November.

The clinics will not have an out-of-pocket cost for students. Instead, the students’ insurance will be billed directly.

According to Becker, two types of vaccines will be offered: a traditional injection as well as a nasal spray. While both offer significant protection against the flu virus, they differ in several ways.

Dr. Wilmore Webley, UMass associate professor of microbiology, explained some of these differences.

“You can get an injection with the killed organism or you can get the nasal spray, which is live influenza,” he said. The nasal spray “can give you a little bit of fever… and might make you feel a little bit stuffy,” he said, and warned that people who have recently been sick or have had a fever should avoid getting the spray.

Despite the possible side effects, Webley recommends the nasal spray.

“Any time you have a live organism vaccine, it always leads to better protection,” he said.

Becker also said that the nasal spray might offer better protection than the injection because it contains protection against more strains of the flu.

“Last year there were some people who came down with the flu (despite being vaccinated) and that was due to the extra circulating strain,” she said. For this reason, this year’s nasal spray was designed to offer extra protection.

While Webley said that it is unlikely that a person who has received a vaccination will get the flu, he said additional strains might lead to vaccines that are not always effective.

“In any given year the people who make the flu vaccine have to have a predicted model of what they think the strains are that will affect us (that) year,” he said. “There are so many strains of (influenza) that you never know which one is going to pop up.” Webley added. “If the strains don’t match up, if what you were vaccinated against is not what you got, then you can get sick.”

Despite the possibly that it might not fully protect all individuals from the flu, Webley said that “it’s always a great idea to get the flu shot, no matter how healthy you are.”

The CDC website states that the flu, which peaks between the months of November and March, “infects the respiratory tract … and can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications.” The CDC recommends a flu vaccination each year as  “the best way to prevent seasonal flu.”

Becker echoed the CDC’s warning and added that it is even more important for college students to get vaccinated because of the crowded conditions in which they live.

Nikoleta Nikova can be reached at [email protected]