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SLU Community Steps Up in Fight Against Flu

On Thursday, Oct. 15, more than 2,400 students received the influenza vaccine as a part of the Student Flu Shots 2020 Initiative at Saint Louis University. The initiative runs through the end of the semester.

A student gets a flu shot during the Student Flu Shots 2020 Initiative

A student gets a Band-Aid after receiving a flu shot Oct. 15 in Simon Recreation Center. More than 2,400 students were vaccinated against influenza through Student Flu Shots 2020 Initiative. Photo by Garrett Canducci.

“This is the first time in many years the University has led an influenza vaccination drive for its students,” said Deborah Artman, RN, MSN, MPH, PHNA-BC, clinical director for the Student Flu Shots 2020 Initiative and assistant professor at the Saint Louis University Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing. “The Student Health Center has always been a reliable provider of flu shots, but this year we expanded outreach and made the service available at no cost.”

Eric Armbrecht, Ph.D., professor at the School of Medicine Department of Health Outcomes and Clinical Research and co-director of the University’s Operational Excellence Program, coordinated the multi-stakeholder planning team which began working together about four weeks ago. The team’s plans focused on providing convenient access to flu shots as a way to drive up vaccination adoption. 

Armbrecht estimates that in a typical year, about 30% of college students across the country get the annual flu vaccine. This pandemic year needs higher flu vaccine coverage to increase health care system capacity for patients with COVID-19. 

SLU leadership set the expectation that students should get a flu shot as part of the COVID-19 pandemic Campus Commitment.

The initiative would not have run as smoothly without the selfless dedication of students to their community and towards each other.”

Ashley Gomel, MPH Student

In addition to 2,400 flu shots delivered on Oct.15, 474 students received flu shots at the LRC site on Oct. 2 and another 425 students reported receiving a flu shot from an off-campus provider, bringing the total number of students vaccinated to 3,299 as of Oct. 15. 

This total does not yet include all students who have reported flu vaccination as part of compliance documentation for clinical programs, which is mandatory for all students enrolled in the School of Medicine and Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing and most students in the Doisy College of Health Sciences. 

“We have a very strong start to flu vaccination with outstanding engagement of students across the University,” Artman said.

Seasonal flu is a serious, highly-contagious respiratory illness and its symptoms overlap with COVID-19. On college campuses, influenza viruses are known to circulate rapidly every year usually between October and May. College students who get the flu experience increased rates of health care use, school absenteeism and impaired academic performance.

Flu-like symptoms can result in isolation while awaiting COVID-19 or influenza test results. Armbrecht says part of the initiative’s goal was to reduce that number. To adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines, advanced appointment scheduling and the use of multiple, large open spaces were utilized to minimize crowding and wait time.

Students Helping Students 

Ashley Gomel, an MPH student and leader of the public health ambassadors organization, assisted with volunteer recruitment, community outreach and health promotion via social media. 

“The initiative would not have run as smoothly without the selfless dedication of students to their community and towards each other,” Gomel said.

She and other volunteers created a video that was shared on social media.  

Sixty-three student nurses from SLU’s traditional and accelerated BSN programs gained real-world experience safely administering vaccines. They were supervised by six faculty members from SLU’s School of Nursing along with eight nurses from The Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis, a non-profit agency that partnered with Saint Louis University to supply and administer flu shots. 

The Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis  provides a number of clinical rotations for SLU nursing students. Armbrecht attributes some success of the initiative to natural, mutually-beneficial collaboration with community partners. 

Seventy student volunteers assisted with intake, consent forms, line management, hospitality and check-out to assure a smooth process for people receiving a flu shot. Most of these student volunteers were affiliated with the College for Public Health and Social Justice Public Health Ambassadors Program, Alpha Epsilon Pre-Medical Service Society and Masters in Public Health Program. 

Students are still able to get flu vaccinations on campus by appointment through the Student Health Center. The Office of Employee Health is offering flu shot clinics through November for faculty and staff members with additional dates for SLUCare employees.

A flu shot site for the School of Law at Scott Hall is being scheduled for late October or November, and Armbrecht says the team is assessing the need for additional flu shot sites on north and south campus before Thanksgiving. SLU has sufficient supply of vaccine doses to serve all students, faculty and staff.

“Thanks to the hard work of many people, the University has built significant capacity to do this type of work in the future,” Armbrecht said. “More importantly, we turned the standard annual public health exercise of vaccination delivery into a meaningful opportunity for community service and learning for many students.”

Story by Bridjes O'Neil, University Marketing and Communications