Following the guidelines from the 2020-2021 academic year and the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Valparaiso University will once again require students to receive the flu shot. The aim of this mandate is to mitigate confusion between COVID-19 and flu symptoms, as well as limit the number of cases on campus.
“The major reasoning is that a lot of the symptoms of cold and flu season match that of COVID. If we can help eliminate one of those from the equation, that helps us identify the COVID symptoms a bit more easily,” said Ryan Blevins, dean of students. “If you look in the national media you see this twin pandemic between flu and COVID. We're just trying to get ahead of that a little bit as well.”
On-campus clinics for vaccinations will be held in the Harre Union Brown and Gold Room on Oct. 13 and Nov. 4 from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and Nov. 12 from 1:00-4:00 p.m. A clinic will also be held on Oct. 21 from 1:00-4:00 p.m. in the Christopher Center. For most participating insurance companies, as well as the university health insurance plan, the flu shot comes at no cost to students.
“The flu shot is so very common, insurances, all insurances that I'm aware of, consider it preventative care, and cover it at 100%. If a student has the university's health insurance plan, it will cover it. So, we do not expect students to have out of pocket costs if they use our clinics. Now if they go off site, we can't guarantee that,” Blevins said.
Students also have the option to be vaccinated by a local health care provider during fall break or visit one of the many clinics offering the shot in the Valpo area.
Per the Oct. 8 Student Life email, “Students may get their flu shot at home from their home provider. Fall break may be a great time to do this. If a student chooses this option, they will need to provide a confirmation to the Health Center via their Valpo Vaccine Verification portal.”
The implementation of required flu vaccines led to record low numbers of flu cases on campus last year, something Student Life hopes will happen again.
“Between that [flu shots] and the masking, [and] the distancing of things last year, we had one flu case on campus last year. That has just never happened before. So that helps promote health with our students within the community. If everybody gets a flu shot it's less likely it's going to occur in a mass way on campus,” Blevins said.
Students with symptoms should visit the Student Health Center, which can provide rapid testing for both COVID-19 and the flu.
“If the symptoms are very close to the same, the health center is actually testing for both. Because they have both tests available, they're on site and they have rapid tests for both, if the flu comes back positive, and the rapid test for the COVID comes back negative, then they're going to assume flu or something like it,” Blevins said.
The official deadline for receiving the vaccination is Nov. 19. Students who do not get the flu shot over winter break or fail to submit acceptable exemption paperwork, such as those for health and religious reasons, will face equivalent consequences to those who failed to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
“Students that do not get a flu shot, and do not receive an exemption for not getting the flu shot will be very similar to what we did with the students who didn't do either option for the COVID shot. By the time we get to the spring semester if they don't have a flu shot or an exemption, they will not be allowed to participate in classes until they do so,” Blevins said.
To request an exemption or seek further clarity on flu shot requirements students should email email@example.com. Completed vaccination paperwork is submitted through the Valpo Vaccine Verification portal.
“Unfortunately, this has become just like a normal routine for students, just like wearing masks in classrooms has become part of the normal routine. We all look forward to the day that that's not a normal routine anymore,” Blevins said.