Boynton Health Service begins offering flu shots

With 5 to 20 percent of Americans getting the flu each year, vaccination is the best way to prevent illness.

by Devin Henry

It’s that time of year – winds change, geese make their trips south and flu shot clinics begin shooting up in malls, grocery stores and on college campuses.

Boynton Health Service is offering free, walk-in flu clinics around campus for students, staff and faculty, a program that began in 2000, David Golden, Boynton’s director of public health and communication, said.

“The truth is, a lot of students are generally healthy,” Golden said. “The worry, though, is you can be infectious before you develop symptoms, and if you expose people who are from a vulnerable population, they don’t do so well when they get influenza.”

Around 33,000 people die from the flu each year, Golden said, including many elderly people or people with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.

Golden said he predicts between 16,000 to 20,000 people will get flu shots from the University this year, which is more than were given last year.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University’s Academic Health Center, said he hopes more than 100 million people nationally get the vaccine this season.

“We hope that the vaccine will be recommended for everyone,” he said. “Our hope is that it will become a more commonly accepted immunization such that it allows the industry to scale up and have more capacity on a routine basis that it can be used during a pandemic.”

Carlson School of Management sophomore Joe Volner, who got his flu shot Tuesday at Coffman Union, said he got the vaccine simply because he doesn’t want to get the flu.

“There are so many people, it’s so easy to contract something from someone else,” he said.

Kristin Nichol, chief of medicine at the V.A. Medical Center and professor of medicine at the University, said getting the flu shot is an easy way to stop the flu from spreading.

“The rate of influenza illness is not trivial,” she said. “If a student cares about avoiding misery, if a student cares about not missing work, if students care about not missing class, or not flunking a test, then they should think about preventing influenza.”

Between 5 percent and 20 percent of Americans will get the flu this season, Nichol said, and many students will miss class or work.

For sophomore biomedical engineering students Dan Pastorius and Rebecca Huebner, the threat of missing class was enough to prompt them to get the vaccine.

“It’s really unfortunate to get sick and miss a lot of school,” Pastorius said.

“Missing class would be a big deal,” Huebner said. “If you miss one day it’s disastrous.”

Huebner said, however, that her uncle got sick after receiving the flu shot a few years ago. He attributed that to an egg allergy.

Golden said there is a screening process to determine if a person could be allergic to something in the shot.

The Minnesota Department of Health also has a program to help ensure the quality of the influenza vaccine.

Jill Marette, a public health nurse advisor and immunization practices specialist at the Minnesota Department of Health, said Boynton, unlike seasonal clinics set up at grocery or drug stores, has its own quality-assurance measures.

“They have other checks and balances,” she said, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

Nichol said the decision to get a flu shot is easy.

“It’s such a small thing that can provide such a substantial benefit,” she said.