For three days last week in Houston Hall, about five members of the Penn community received a flu shot every minute.
Organized by the Student Health Service and Campus Health, the public health entity within SHS, this flu clinic tries to help Penn students, faculty and staff beat flu season by administering flu vaccines. This year, an unprecedented 6,400 people got vaccinations at the clinic, surpassing last year’s count of 5,420 people.
Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said this year’s turnout exceeded expectations.
Campus Health and SHS focused publicity efforts this year by implementing a more targeted social media and messaging effort. This was a contrast to past years when SHS just sent emails asking people to spread the message. Halbritter also said the flu clinic featured “a more unique poster campaign” based on the popular Netflix original show, "Stranger Things."
Executive Director of SHS Giang Nguyen said it was actually Penn students who designed the posters to make them “eye-catching and clever.”
Halbritter said the timing of the flu clinic may also explain the increased participation. The clinic occurred earlier than last year and this was the first time in several years that it was held on a Friday.
“We were sort of gambling on, because people’s schedules are lighter on Fridays, that they would be on campus and would have more time to stop by the flu clinic,” Halbritter said.
She added that getting a shot would take, on average, less than five minutes, even when the lines were full.
Nursing sophomore Anita Itaman volunteered at the event by counting the number of people who arrived and helping to direct them to waiting lines. She said she was impressed with the clinic's organization.
Nguyen said the efficiency of the clinic was important, not only to ensure that they could vaccinate as many people as possible, but also to train for a state of medical emergency where medications or vaccinations would have to be distributed quickly throughout campus.
Students enrolled in the Penn Student Insurance Plan received the vaccine for free and Human Resources covered the cost of vaccinations for faculty and staff. Students with alternate forms of health care paid an electronic fee of $25, but could pick up a reimbursement form at the clinic’s exit. According to Halbritter, most health care companies should reimburse the cost of the flu shot under current Obamacare guidelines.
College sophomore Michael Nickley said he became aware of the clinic through its numerous posters on campus. He received a free vaccination with his PSIP and said the process “ran very smoothly.” He added that he texted all his friends and his floormates to remind them to get vaccinated.
College sophomore Jackson Min said he had planned to get immunized at the clinic, but became ill with a virus before he could. After consulting SHS, which told him not to get vaccinated while ill, he decided to get his vaccination from SHS or CVS after recovering.
Halbritter said Penn students’ high compliance to the University’s immunization requirements suggests that students “believe in the science” behind vaccines. However, studies show that in fact, as few as 8 percent of college students receive the flu vaccine every year. Experts believe that this low rate may be due to college students’ “unwarranted optimism” about their health.
“The flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective,” Halbritter said. “It’s not going to protect everyone from all strains of flu, but if you get the flu vaccine, it helps reduce the severity of symptoms and at the very least keeps you out of the hospital.”
Nguyen said that there is a popular misconception that the cold, a common illness that circulates around flu season, is the flu.
“The flu is a really severe infection where people typically are going to be pretty ill for 7-10 days,” he said. “That’s just not something that Penn students really have time for.”
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