For months, public health officials have been warning about a twindemic caused by the doubling of flu season and the coronavirus pandemic, encouraging people to get their flu shots. At USC, these concerns led to the implementation of a shortened, earlier semester set to finish before Thanksgiving break when initial hybrid plans were announced. Now, outdoor stations have been set up around campus for students to get their flu shots, a decision made with social distancing guidelines in mind.
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in the United States, health experts are advising people to get the flu vaccination before this year’s flu season starts. According to Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman, USC Student Health is currently accepting appointments for students to get vaccinated.
“We are scheduling appointments, so what that means is that rather than people walking up, we really are spacing people out,” Van Orman said. “Our teams that are giving the flu shots are wearing full [personal protective equipment], people are waiting in lines six feet apart.”
Similar to its on-campus coronavirus testing efforts, Student Health has moved flu shot stations outside. Instead of coming into the clinic for their shots, students go to an outdoor tent during their scheduled time. This protective measure considers students who worry about going into a clinic and getting infected.
“One of the things we are learning about this is, because of the nature of the air solation of the virus, indoors appears to be a part of the problem,” Van Orman said. “Where possible, particularly something like flu shots, where we know it’s a lot of folks, we’ve actually moved it outside.”
Students who are selected for free asymptomatic coronavirus population testing through Student Health are also encouraged to get their flu shot and can do so at two locations at the University Park Campus — Pardee Tower and Parkside. Student Health said it had administered 1,060 flu shots as of Wednesday.
Aaron Wang, a junior majoring in computer science and business administration, lives near campus and said he would get a flu shot at one of the outdoor sites after seeing how Student Health has handled coronavirus testing in a serious manner.
“Recently, I’ve been able to go on campus a couple of times to get my Color COVID test, and I felt that the measures that they’ve been taking in order to make sure that the campus is an accessible environment are pretty safe,” Wang said. “As long as they continue to uphold the seriousness of the situation, I think that most students that I interacted with, including myself, wouldn’t be against getting a flu shot on campus.”
Will Chambers, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law, plans to get a flu shot but said he would feel more comfortable going to an outside clinic rather than Student Health. He worries that going on campus to get the shot will put him at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus from another student who’s infected and may not know it.
“For the most part, that’s definitely a good idea to have a setup similar to the way COVID testing is happening on campus with having things socially distanced and outside,” Chambers said. “But I still think that you run the risk of having infected people show up and get flu shots and have infection spread.”
Nicole Levi, a sophomore majoring in law, history and culture, typically goes to a pharmacy for her flu shots, but after hearing about Student Health’s outdoor stations, she said she is thinking about getting vaccinated at USC instead.
“I would totally consider going to Student Health,” Levi said. “I might even do that instead of going to CVS or somewhere like I normally do, just because it makes me more comfortable knowing that they’re doing it outside, that they have masks. I know CVS and stores like that are really crowded, and I feel a little bit worried about doing it indoors.”
Levi said despite Student Health’s safety efforts, getting vaccinated at the same location that students are being tested for the coronavirus raises a concern for her.
“I’ve been a little bit worried about testing because I think the people in line might be people who are experiencing symptoms,” Levi said. “So if it’s in the same spot as the flu shot, that’s one thing I’d be a little bit worried about.”
Student Health has been offering flu shots early, and it plans to open a new site at USC Village, giving access to more off-campus students.
Wang said more students may be inclined to get vaccinated at USC Village since students frequent the area to purchase groceries and likely aren’t on campus often with online classes.
“There’s a lot of students who do their daily shopping at Trader Joe’s or Target,” Wang said. “I think adding one of the sites at the Village would be an excellent way of incentivizing students to get their shots.”
Chambers said that a station at USC Village will most likely lead to more people going to get their shots but that students should decide whether or not they feel comfortable going onto campus as case numbers continue to rise among students.
“I think the University’s decision right now is the best they can come up with given everything that we know about COVID and this upcoming flu season,” Chambers said. “[The University] should be congratulated for their efforts in some ways, but also, you have to take whatever measures are being taken with a grain of salt because there’s no way to know how safe anything is until you get to the backside of things and you see how many people get infected as a result of it.”
Students can schedule a flu shot appointment through their MySHR Portal.