By Yeelin Bacchus
Editor’s note: After this story aired, BU clarified its policy. Students are required to get the flu shot by December 31, but they will be able to register for spring classes in November without proof of vaccination.
BU announced on September 29 that the flu shot is mandatory in order to register for the spring semester.
The requirement comes after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced in August that students under 30 must get a flu shot unless they have a medical or religious exemption, are home-schooled, or are living off-campus and taking classes entirely remotely.
For BU students, this means that if you are in testing categories 1, 2, or 3 you will need to get vaccinated. Students using the Learn from Anywhere model with no plans to come on campus are not required to get a flu shot.
Judy Platt, the director of Student Health Services, told BU Today that there is no evidence that getting the flu shot reduces the chance of getting COVID-19. But the flu is a serious illness even for healthy college students. A vaccinated student population is less likely to burden a healthcare system that is already struggling with COVID-19.
Eleanor Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at BU’s School of Public Health, highlighted a few other reasons that flu shots have been made required this year.
“The first is that just because you have the flu doesn’t mean you can’t also get COVID at the same time,” Murray said. “So one piece is that if you have the flu, that could mean worse outcomes if you get COVID at the same time. And that’s something we don’t know about, but since they both attack your lungs, it would feel a lot worse if you had both than if you just had flu, or just had COVID.”
Murray also said that flu shots could prevent a campus shutdown.
“Diagnostically, the flu can look a lot like COVID,” she said. “So if you are vaccinated against the flu and we can avoid having flu on campus, this makes it less likely that we are mistaking it for COVID and having to shut down early and taking all these precautions, thinking that it’s COVID, but really it’s the flu.”
Some students might avoid the flu shot because they think it will give them the flu, but Murray says that’s a misconception. She hopes that other misconceptions don’t stop students from getting vaccinated.
“It’s also important to recognize that it takes your body a little time to learn from the vaccine how to defend against the flu, so it’s not like an instant magical protection,” she said.
Another common misconception is that the flu shot doesn’t work, since people do get the flu despite having been vaccinated.
“The flu vaccine is not 100 percent protective, so some people will still get the flu even if they’ve had the vaccine,” Murray said. “But what the research shows us is generally, if you’ve had the vaccine, your experience with flu is milder and you’re less likely to be sick and feverish and in bed for a whole week.”
BU students can get the flu shot at flu clinics hosted by Student Health Services. The vaccine is $40, or free for those on the Student Health Insurance Plan. If you get vaccinated from an external pharmacy or clinic, that documentation from the pharmacy or your insurance provider has to be uploaded to the Patient Connect portal.
Some students have reported that flu clinic appointments haven’t been available on Patient Connect for students and faculty. BU Spokesman Colin Riley said that the university ordered extra vaccines in August, but they haven’t come yet.
“We’ve ordered vaccines as we do every year, and because of demand, shipping and fulfilling orders has been slower than anticipated. And again, it’s encumbered by what’s going on with COVID,” Riley said.
In our current climate, vaccines weigh heavy on our minds. Professor Murray offered some additional insight into how the flu vaccine connects to the pandemic.
“One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how do we practice helping people understand that vaccines are important?” Murray said. “Improving distribution, improving access with the flu vaccine, so that when we have a coronavirus vaccine we are able to address some of these barriers and concerns.”