VUMC hosts 10th annual Flulapalooza

The mass-vaccination event returned to campus for the first time after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Saky Nguyen

The Zerfoss Student Health Center, as photographed on Sept. 27, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Saky Nguyen)

Aaditi Lele, News Editor

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) hosted its annual Flulapalooza on Sept. 28 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. CDT to provide Vanderbilt faculty, staff, volunteers and students with free influenza vaccinations. The event offered normal flu vaccines, a high dosage version of the vaccine and an egg-free version of the vaccine. 

In 2020, Flulapalooza was canceled indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the VUMC shifted to a long-term distribution of free flu vaccines at the Student Health Center, due to social distancing guidelines implemented that year. 

Flulapalooza was first launched as an emergency operation exercise for the VUMC in 2011, after which it was established as an annual tradition. At the first Flulapalooza, the VUMC also broke the Guinness World Record for most vaccines delivered within eight hours by administering 12,850 flu vaccines to the Vanderbilt community.

According to Director of Student Health Dr. Louise Hanson, students who were unable to attend the event can receive flu shots at the Student Health Center starting Sept. 29. No appointments are needed for flu vaccines. Additionally, students can make appointments for an Omicron-specific COVID-19 booster if it has been at least two months since their last COVID-19 vaccination. 

Hanson explained that this is the 10th year that the VUMC is hosting Flulapalooza and said the event has become “woven into the Vanderbilt culture” since its record-breaking inaugural year. Hanson added that the Student Health Center was excited to bring back the event after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus because it was otherwise difficult to get students to schedule flu shot appointments. 

“It’s an efficient, easy and upbeat way to get the community together for influenza vaccination, while also tweaking year after year how efficiently a mass vaccination event could be mobilized,” Hanson said. 

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at the VUMC, explained that vaccinations like these are critical to ensuring the health of our communities. 

We have many persons in our community who are immunocompromised.  They cannot respond optimally to the influenza vaccine, so the best way to protect them is for all the rest of us to be vaccinated, providing them with a ‘cocoon of protection’ around them,” Schaffner said. 

He added that Flulapalooza is also an educational event because it teaches students the importance of annual influenza vaccinations and allows the medical center to rehearse procedures for pandemic responses. Schaffner said he is excited to have the event again in person, adding that Vanderbilt has a “national reputation” for it. 

Schaffner also explained why the event is critical to the COVID-19 pandemic as well, saying that influenza and COVID-19 create a “twindemic” that can be avoided with preventative measures.

“As our society is returning to near-normal activities, there is a concern that this winter we might experience a ‘twindemic,’ both an increase in COVID along with a substantial influenza outbreak,” Schaffner said. “The best way to mitigate the adverse impacts of both viral infections is to be vaccinated against both.”

2022 Vanderbilt graduate and Flulapalooza staff member Kev Jung encouraged students to get their flu vaccines. 

It’s easy. Do it. Get it. Quick five minutes, and it doesn’t even hurt,” Jung said.

Other students said that the event was managed well, making it easier to trust the VUMC experts delivering the vaccines. 

They seem to be managing people through really well,” first-year Reed Hightower said. “There hasn’t been a line in the thirty minutes I’ve been here. It’s good management. Good people giving the shots. I trust it.”

Jazlyn Selvasingh contributed reporting to this piece.