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University, city enters into flu season

Over 6,000 free vaccinations were administered exclusively for students during the first flu blitz, University Health Services (UHS) director Edward Junkins told The Observer. Faculty, staff and dependents are eligible to make appointments for the second blitz.

The UHS orchestrated its annual flu vaccine blitz in the Stepan Center on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21. The secondary blitz takes place this week on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12.

Junkins supplied the rationale: influenza is a highly communicable infectious disease that consistently causes morbidity. 

Influenza, Junkins said, is an illness that can quickly overwhelm the resources the University has in place in the event of a widespread outbreak.

“[Morbidity] means loss of time from work, significant symptoms, so body aches, high fever, dehydration and putting people at risk who have chronic illness,” he said.

Though Notre Dame has a primary care clinic located on campus in Saint Liam Hall that takes care of urgent needs, Junkins said that the University does not have the resources to take care of hundreds of students.

“Even though we have a high vaccination rate, we still get breakthrough infections and that very quickly overwhelms our clinic, our pharmacy,” he said.

In agreement with Junkins, St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Mark Fox said he thinks Notre Dame’s flu blitzes are advantageous to the community because of the congregate living on campus.

“It is obviously important for the campus community because there is a lot of congregate living,” Fox said. “So, the risk of spreading any respiratory illness is significant. So, any opportunity to reduce that is beneficial.”

Aside from the congregate living, Fox said he regards Notre Dame to be a well-protected, heavily vaccinated community. Fox underscored the blitz’s effect on South Bend.

“And while much of the campus lives in congregate living settings, you know, it’s not a closed campus,” he added. “There’s a lot of interaction with Notre Dame students, faculty and staff out in the community, or volunteering or going to Martin’s or going to Finnies or wherever.”

The COVID pandemic’s third flu season beginning this fall, Fox pointed out the growing importance of flu vaccinations in 2022 than in direct years past.

“Over the last couple of years in general, the flu rates have been lower because there were a lot of COVID mitigation strategies in place and people who were sick were likely staying home or staying in their dorm,” he said.

Fox predicts that flu cases will increase now that pandemic era practices have gone away.

“Now that most of the community is following virtually no mitigation strategies, I expect that this will be probably a more normal flu season,” Fox said.

With these risks, last year saw over 90% student compliance with the flu vaccine mandate, Junkins said. The 6600 student-dedicated appointments at the first blitz were all taken.

“Shots in arms,” he said. “We still have about another 5000 or so students who still need to meet the requirement. I would predict about 3000 of those students will come back through during this next Blitz.”

Some students will get the vaccination over fall break but the University said they plan to set it up so that students can receive their vaccine for free before they travel home and back, Junkins said.

“Of course,” Junkins said, “[the flu vaccine] is required in order to be able to register for the spring semester.”

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu