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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Flulapalooza aims to increase vaccinations on campus on Oct. 11

Vanderbilt University
photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University

For many students at Vanderbilt, getting sick in college is an all-too-familiar routine. As flu season approaches, Vanderbilt faculty, staff and volunteers are helping students prepare with the annual record-breaking Flulapalooza event.

Flulapalooza began in 2011 with the intention of providing a fast, convenient way to vaccinate students, faculty, staff and volunteers on campus against influenza.

“We wanted to generate enthusiasm among students, as well as simulate an event you might have during a pandemic, when a lot of people need vaccinations,” said Dr. Melanie, Swift, Director of Occupational Health at Vanderbilt.

In its first year on campus, the Flulapalooza event attracted so many students that the event itself unofficially broke a World Record for the most vaccinations administered during an eight-hour period. 12,850 vaccinations were administered, more than doubling Kaiser Hospital’s previous record of 6,000 flu vaccines in 2008.

The Vanderbilt Occupational Health Clinic begins planning Flulapalooza in the early summer, which requires careful organization to ensure a timely and efficient event.

“We’ve learned a lot and know how to prepare for [Flulapalooza] well in advance,” Swift said.

The organization of the event is inspired by the hospital incident command system, a system implemented by many hospitals as a way of providing a safe and effective response to unplanned events or cases of emergency. For Vanderbilt, practicing such a system helps ensure the safety and well-being of those on campus should an infectious outbreak occur, he said.

Since 2011, the number of students attending the event has grown annually. Last year, approximately 4,000 students received a flu vaccine at Flulapalooza.

Despite the thousands of students that Vanderbilt vaccinates each year for the flu, there are still many who believe that the vaccine itself is ineffective or unnecessary.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt, stresses that there are many misconceptions surrounding the influenza vaccine. Nevertheless, every student on campus should get vaccinated, he said.

One of the most common objections to the vaccine is that it is imperfect and does not protect against all strains of influenza.

“It’s correct that the vaccine is imperfect, as very few vaccines are,” Schaffner said. “However, even if the vaccine can’t prevent it completely, the illness that you get afterwards is almost always milder, and your risk of dying is diminished.”

With over 200,000 hospitalizations each year from influenza, it is the most serious respiratory virus actively spreading. Deaths can range from 30,000 to 40,000 each year, depending on the severity of the season. Though many of these patients are older in age, Schaffner stresses that anyone over the age of six months should be vaccinated for the flu each year.

“From time to time, influenza can strike a perfectly healthy, young person and put them in the emergency room,” said Schaffner. “So by getting vaccinated, you’re not just protecting yourself but your protect others around you.”

The flu season generally starts in late November, peaking in February, and then begins to drop off. However, there are always exceptions, with some catching the flu outside of the typical time period.

Additionally, the vaccine takes about two weeks to begin protecting against the flu. For this reason, Flulapalooza takes place several weeks before peak flu season begins.

This year, only injections will be administered at Flulapalooza, and not nasal sprays, another common form of the vaccine. The vaccines will protect against four dominant strains of the flu virus that are currently active, rather than just one.

“It’s like we’re using a shotgun rather than a rifle,” said Dr. Schaffner.

According to Dr. Schaffner, another common misconception about the vaccine is that vaccination itself can cause the flu. The reason for this, he says, could be due to imperfections of the vaccine around 30 to 40 years ago, when people would have local reactions, sore arms, and perhaps a fever for about a day following vaccination.

“Some people thought this was the flu,” said Schaffner. “However, there are a clot of common colds that go by during the flu season, so that could be the source of those reactions.”

Since the flu virus changes or is anticipated to change each year, it’s important to get vaccinated annually. The vaccine is adjusted accordingly in order to provide the best protection.

“Flulapalooza is quick, it’s easy, and you’ve done your best for yourself and everyone around you,” said Schaffner. “So don’t think about it – just do it.”

Flulapalooza is free to anyone with a valid Vanderbilt student ID. The event will be held Tuesday, Oct. 11 between Light Hall and the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital from 6AM to 6PM.

For those who cannot attend the event, flu vaccines are available daily by appointment or walk-in at the Vanderbilt Student Health Center.

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