Flu Vaccine Clinics Strive to Boost Immunization

For the past four years, Swarthmore Worth Health and Wellness Center has been offering pop-up flu shot clinics around campus to make it easier for students to get the flu shot. Approximately 300 students get their flu shot each year at these clinics, a step towards achieving the CDC’s goal of 70% immunization for adults.

Beginning Oct. 2 and ending Nov. 13, Swarthmore Health and Wellness Center hosted hour-long pop-up clinics at various locations across campus for the fourth year in a row. The next and final clinic will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 13 from 2 to 3 p.m. in Parrish Parlours. Once they arrive, students must complete several liability forms through the “Student Health Portal” in mySwarthmore. Then comes the shot, but students who are afraid of needles are not alone.

“We will have our therapy dog Izzy travel with us during the clinics with our goal of boosting participation. Izzy provides comfort and calmness to students who are nervous about the discomfort associated with receiving a vaccine,” said Casey Anderson, Family Nurse Practioner and Interim Director of Student Health and Wellness.

Students who have the Student Health Insurance Plan are all done after receiving the shot. Students not on the college plan will need to pay $25, either in cash, check, or billed to their student account. If the latter option is chosen, receipts are available for insurance reimbursement. Worth Health Center does offer fee waivers if the price provides a financial burden.

According to Anderson, the reason for offering pop-up clinics was to increase the vaccination rate of the student population. 

“About 300 students get a flu shot at the pop-up clinics every year. Our idea of taking the flu vaccine out on campus has positively impacted our vaccination rates among our student population … It is difficult for us to determine the overall rate of influenza vaccination across campus as many students choose to receive the vaccine at their home physician’s offices over fall or winter break rather than at the Health Center.” said Anderson. 

Therefore, unless more than half of the student population receives the flu shot off-campus, the overall vaccination rate is below the recommended target. College students are also at increased risk of contracting the flu.

“Living on a college campus, with close contact to other students, places college-aged people at higher risk for contracting a virus like influenza.  By receiving the vaccine, you can provide yourself with protection that may limit your risk of becoming ill with influenza as well as help protect those around you with chronic illnesses or suppressed immune systems,” said Anderson.

For Calla Bush St George ’20, a biology major, ensuring that those who can’t be immunized are still protected is also a driving factor in getting the flu shot.

“I’m a really big proponent of everyone getting everyone who can get their flu shot, it’s not fun to have the flu, but it can be really harmful to people who aren’t able to get the flu shot, like little babies and people who are immunocompromised,” said Bush St George.

 Additionally, there are signs that this year’s flu might be particularly severe.

“This year’s flu it’s a type of swine flu. The characteristics of it are H3N2 … We base our flu vaccines off of Australia’s flu season and the CDC saw that the Australian flu was a swine flu variant. And it really did not go well in Australia, there were a lot of flu-related hospitalizations. So this flu season, more than the last three or four years, it’s really important to get the flu shot,” said Bush St George. While the clinics can make it easier for students to get the shot there are other options.

“Some people get the impression that they can only get flu shots at these clinics when you could walk into Worth anytime … [It should] also be advertised that if you can’t go to the flu clinic you can go to Target or CVS and get a flu shot for free,” said Bush St George.

Though research shows that even modest increases in vaccination rates have significant benefits for populations as a whole. Despite clear benefits, the overall vaccination rate remains low. This isn’t surprising to Professor of Economics, Syon Bhanot.

“The benefits to society exceed the costs to you, but the benefits to you don’t exceed the cost to you,” said Bhanot in regards to an individual’s decision of whether or not to get the flu shot. Bhanot sees several approaches to increasing participation.

“One key aspect that I think good campaigns do well is increased observability of the prosocial behavior … [for example] Livestrong bracelets, “I Voted” stickers, the Ice Bucket Challenge. People like getting that recognition for [performing an act that benefits the whole community]” said Bhanot. 

Increasing the personal benefits of getting the flu shot, through recognition of prosocial behavior could increase the number of students who get the vaccine. Bhanot thinks there could be additional gains made to the overall influenza vaccination rate by addressing the action-intention gap.

“Some people want to get their flu shot and they intend to, but then there’s this action gap. One way to address this is basically having people make a plan. Don’t ask someone to get your flu shot at some point in the next two weeks, you’re giving people lots of wiggle room to get out of it. Instead say ‘Hey, I know it’s hard to plan this; here’s a sheet of paper, you can write the day and time that work for you.’ Then you can take the card and put it on your fridge or whatever. But it’s that little cue that makes people think ‘I signed up to do this, I feel obligated to do it.”

There was a combination of factors that lead Kyle Lee ’22 to get a flu shot. As Professor Bhanot suggested, reminders can be a helpful motivator.

“My roommate told me about the pop-up clinic and said he was going so I went too. I also saw the emails. I could have gone to Worth but I only got vaccinated because of [all the email reminders]. I don’t think I went last year,” said Lee. 

Lee also felt that some changes could be made to make it even easier for students to participate.”The matchbox pop-up was a bit far. Maybe if [Swarthmore Health and Wellness] held the pop-ups in dorms [other than Parrish] on different days of the week [it would be easier to get a flu shot in the future]” said Lee. 

Flu shot clinics have been held in Shane Lounge, Sci Commons, McCabe Library, the Matchbox, and Sharples this year; locations, however, do change year to year.

Going forward, Student Health and Wellness intends to continue trying to increase the overall influenza vaccination rate of the campus population in future flu seasons.

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