Campus News

Flu vaccinations: where, when, why

Why a seasonal flu vaccine is important and where Carolina employees and students can get one.

person in white coat and blue surgical gloves holding syringe and vaccine vial
(Adobe Stock)

It’s time for your flu vaccination.

With a case of the flu possibly just one or two sneezes away, health care professionals recommend that everyone consider getting a vaccination to protect yourself and others. Don’t let the pandemic stop you.

Dr. Jim Hill, director of the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic, said that there is concern that the pandemic may limit traditional resources for testing for and treating influenza and that people may not get the flu vaccine because they are avoiding health care settings.

However, there may be an upside to all our pandemic precautions.

Dr. James Hill

Dr. James Hill

“Scientifically, this will be an interesting flu season for many reasons, including that the same public health practices of masking, social distancing, limiting social gatherings and staying home if you are sick to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 should reduce the transmission of influenza as both infections are spread by droplets,” Dr. Hill said.

Flu cases in the U.S. often begin to increase in October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with peaks between December and February.

To prepare for flu season, the University is offering flu shot clinics beginning Sept. 8. University employees and students can be vaccinated at two campus clinics with no appointment required, and several walk-in clinics will be offered. Medicare plans will not be accepted.

  • Student Stores Pharmacy, third floor, UNC Student Stores. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • Campus Health Pharmacy, Campus Health loading dock area between Kenan Stadium and UNC Hospitals. Monday-Friday, 1-5 p.m.
  • University Employee Occupational Health Clinic, by appointment only for University healthcare personnel (including the School of Medicine) and other personnel who are part of the Immunization Review Program. Call the UEOHC at 919-966-9119 to schedule.
  • Walk-in clinics, noon-4 p.m., no advance registration required:
    • Thursday, Sept 17 – Tent at Polk Place
    • Thursday, Oct 1 – Tent at Genetic Medicine Building
    • Thursday, Oct 8 – Breezeway at Genome Sciences Building
    • Thursday, Oct 15 – Tent at Polk Place
    • Friday, Oct 16 – Tent at Genetic Medicine Building
    • Friday, Oct 23  – Giles Horney Building.

Most insurances offer flu vaccination with no copay.  Campus Health is in-network with most major insurance plans, including the State Health Plan and Student Blue.  See the Campus Health website for more information about health plans accepted.  Campus Health does not accept Medicare plans.  Please bring a copy of your insurance card.  You will be billed for any out-of-pocket expense as determined by your insurance company.  Flu vaccination is available for $40 for those without insurance.

Due to current COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions, flu vaccination clinics will be implementing the following to ensure the safety and health of all:

  • Flu clinic staff are required to wear surgical masks, face shields and gloves at all times and do daily COVID-19 symptom monitoring.
  • All flu clinic attendees will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms prior to entry.
  • All flu clinic attendees are required to wear a mask or face covering.  If you do not have an appropriate mask, one will be provided.
  • Our waiting areas and flu shot stations will be arranged to accommodate physical distancing of at least 6 feet.
  • Flu shot stations will be disinfected after each patient

There is no co-pay for employees on the State Health Plan or for students and employees insured through Blue Cross Blue Shield, Partners, Aetna, Humana Gold, SummaCare, Advantra Freedom and Medicare Part B. Bring a health plan card and UNC One Card ID to the clinic. Employees and students not on the listed plans can get a vaccination by paying $40.

The importance of flu vaccinations

“Flu vaccine effectiveness in the U.S. has been as high as 60% for the 2010-2011 flu season and as low as 19% for the 2014-2015 flu season,” Dr. Hill said. “This does not mean you should not get vaccinated, but highlights that vaccination is only one part of the public health strategy to reduce influenza infections. Vaccination, along with proper hand washing, covering your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze and staying home if you are sick are all necessary parts to reduce the flu in our communities.”

Preparation for seasonal flu includes looking at flu case data from countries in the Southern Hemisphere experiencing winter to find a vaccine match for currently circulating flu. However, he said that exact comparisons are difficult.

“We will not know if it is a bad flu season in the United States until it is over,” Dr. Hill said. “This is why we stress the importance of universal influenza vaccination, along with other proven public health strategies to reduce influenza infections.”

Hill also said that flu vaccinations can help keep resources available for COVID-19 patients by reducing the number of people who may need to be hospitalized for flu-related complication.

The CDC recommends flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months of age and older with rare exception. Hill said that pregnant women are a priority group for vaccinations and should get the inactivated influenza vaccine. For people who are allergic to eggs, there are two egg-free influenza vaccines licensed for use in the U.S.

For the campus community

On Carolina’s flu vaccination website, the campus community can find more information about seasonal flu and resources such as flu certifications, a medical contraindication release, religious exemption and a link to the University’s Environmental Health and Safety compliance portal, where employees may keep an immunization record.

The site also offers Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s answers to frequently asked questions:

Q: Will I get the flu from the flu shot?

A: No. A flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness.

Q: Do I need a flu shot every year?

A: Yes. The flu changes every year. Each year the shot is used to fight the most current flu.

Q: When should I get a flu shot?

A: As early as you can. You can get the flu shot beginning in September or as soon as the shot is available. You can also get it throughout the flu season, which can last as late as May.

Q: Why should I get a flu shot?

A: The flu usually makes people very sick for several days and is the reason more than 300,000 people are hospitalized each year. Getting a flu shot every year is the best way to protect yourself and others.

Q: Can I still get the flu after I get the flu shot?

A: Yes. Like other vaccines, the flu shot doesn’t work 100% of the time and does not start working until about two weeks after you get the shot. During those two weeks, you can get the flu as easily as people who have not had a flu shot. Still, the best way to avoid getting the flu is to get a flu shot every year.

Q: What are the side effects of getting a flu shot?

A: You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Almost all people who get the flu shot have no problems from it. Some people may have soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever or aches. These could happen soon after the shot is given and usually last one to two days. Severe allergic reactions are rare, but anyone who is allergic to chicken eggs should not get the flu shot because the virus used in the shot is grown in eggs. If you have any problems after getting your flu shot, see your doctor right away.

Q: Who should get a flu shot?

A: Everyone six months of age and older should get a flu shot each year, especially people who may be at a higher risk of getting the flu and who have a harder time getting better after they are sick (see below).

Q: Who is classified as high risk?

A: There may be times when the flu shot is only available to people who may be at a higher risk for getting the flu and who have a harder time getting better after they are sick. These include:

  • Children younger than five years of age, but especially children younger than two years of age
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women and women up to two weeks after the end of pregnancy
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • People who are morbidly obese with a body mass index of 40 or greater
  • People who have:
    • Asthma (even if it’s controlled or mild)
    • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
    • Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis
    • Heart disease, such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease
    • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
    • Endocrine disorders, such as diabetes
    • Kidney disorders
    • Liver disorders
    • Metabolic disorders, such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders
    • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication, such as people with HIV or AIDS, cancer or those on long-term steroids therapy
    • People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.