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Flu vaccines were administered in Houston Hall throughout the day on Wednesday.

Credit: Seavmeiyin Kun

For the second year in a row, Penn’s annual flu clinic is providing free vaccines to students, faculty, and staff in preparation for flu season. 

Student Health Service and Campus Health are holding the flu clinic this week from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday. Students that visit Bodek Lounge in Houston Hall with their PennCard are likely to be in and out in five minutes, according to the flu shot FAQ sheet.

Last year’s flu clinic vaccinated a record 10,000 students, faculty, and staff, a substantial increase from the 2017 tally of 6,400 people. Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said that jump in vaccinations was largely because the flu vaccine was free for all Penn students for the first time last year. 

Previously, the flu shot was only free for faculty, staff and students on the Penn Student Insurance Plan. Other students had to pay $25 out of pocket and then seek reimbursement through their own insurance plans.

“The change that we made last year made a difference, and as a result we decided to continue,” SHS Executive Director Giang Nguyen said of the decision to offer free flu shots this year.  Campus Health and SHS plan to continue this policy in future years, Halbritter said.

For students, the lack of cost makes a difference — Wharton junior Jake Kohlbrenner said he plans to get a flu shot on Thursday but is “not quite sure” whether he would get the shot if he had to pay. 

Halbritter said the flu clinic is also trying to increase turnout by tapping into the competitive spirit of Penn students. For the first time, she said, the flu clinic is part of the College Cup. The clinic also passes on attendance data from each day to Penn’s schools and college houses so they can see which groups are leading. 

The main method of raising awareness for the clinic, Halbritter said, remains emails to students from the administration and student government. 

Second-year Law student Sarah Byrne said she learned about the clinic because she received multiple emails.

“I just saw signs for it around and some posters up,” Wharton and Engineering freshman Will Jansen said.

Both Byrne and Jansen praised the flu clinic’s efficiency. Jansen described it as a "well-oiled machine." 

"I think they do a really good job of moving people through," Byrne said. 

After eliminating cost and efficiency barriers, Nguyen said, SHS is now grappling with how to reach students who feel they do not need the flu shot. Halbritter said SHS also has to deal with concerns that taking the flu shot can cause the flu, which is the first topic addressed in the flu shot FAQ: “The flu vaccine is inactive and is therefore not infectious.”

This year’s flu clinic will be one of Nguyen’s last health events at Penn before he departs in November to lead Harvard University Health Services. 

“If people want to say goodbye they should come out and get vaccinated,” Halbritter joked. 

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