Fending off the Flu: Vaccine Availability for Students

More than one hundred students and teachers waited in line on Thursday for flu vaccinations. Although the college offered only one day for on-campus vaccinations, options other than driving all the way to Jackson or Marshall to get a flu shot are available (Photo by Kellie Brown).

From the sudden fever and headaches to being violently ill, having the flu, even if you’re not in the Emergency Room with a 102 degree fever, can be an awful way to study for finals. 

As a self-proclaimed germaphobe,  my fear of the flu has manifested itself in the past few weeks (pretty much since reminder emails about the flu shot started coming out) just about every time I’ve heard someone around me start coughing up a lung.

My search for an accessible flu shot started at Student Health Services, something that surprised even me, with its closed doors and semi abandoned look, stuck between Campus Safety and the Admissions Center.

Student Health Services

There has been a lot of controversy and misinformation around campus about Student Health Services and Oaklawn Clinic as the clinic opened it doors last year. But walking into the near empty clinic next to Campus Safety, one lone bastion stands out against the otherwise grey building. 

Even the sign on the front of the building warns students that the Clinic is no longer open and that they should go to Oaklawn, and their website claims that Student Health Services is no longer open at all, though they still list medical information for students’ easy access. 

Inside the building, Cheryl Krause, Registered Nurse, remains the sole staff member for Student Health Services. 

“I can’t do [health] care at all, because there is no doctor that oversees me anymore, unfortunately. I’m doing more of troubleshooting for the students,” she explained.

Without Student Health Services offering regular services to students, the college offered only one day of flu vaccines on campus, leaving students who could not attend with the inconvenience of driving to Marshall or Jackson just to get a flu shot. What many students might not know is that there are still options in Albion for flu vaccinations that do not necessitate a thirty minute drive out of town.

Krause explained that because of how late in production for flu shots began this year, they are not currently available at Oaklawn. This late production date, Krause said, is not uncommon for flu vaccinations.

“They played the guessing game, and unfortunately they weren’t quite as quick as they’d like it to be, this year. It was a little behind in production, but that’s not uncommon,” said Krause. “For us to be waiting for the flu vaccine, that’s not uncommon.”

Hospitals and doctors’ practices tend to buy their vaccines in groups, but the Calhoun County Health Department has a different way of getting their own vaccines, allowing them to have flu shots available. However, many doctors’ practices in the area, like Oaklawn, do not yet have available vaccines.

Oaklawn’s order for the vaccines will come later than the Health Department’s, but they will eventually be able to provide vaccines for patients, by Nov. 1.

Despite not being able to do things like administer flu shots, Student Health Services still offers several important services on campus. 

Krause has been busy conducting these services. Her main responsibilities at the moment include helping out of state students apply for Michigan Medicaid, helping students find patient assistance for any surprise bills,  coordinating the Student Assistance Fund, which helps Albion students find winter clothing, and bringing the Fountain Clinic to campus one afternoon a month. 

As someone certified to help patients look for coverage options, Krause is available to help students register for Michigan Medicaid, which can be confusing for students because they cannot carry insurance from two different states at the same time, and there are large differences between insurance from state to state. Krause explained that many students have already registered with help from the school or only need to have their registration transferred to Michigan.

Krause has also been helping students get transportation to Marshall for dental and vision care this past year, services that she hopes are coming to Albion soon.

Flu Vaccinations

Most recently, Krause helped coordinate the flu shot clinic on the first floor of the Kellogg Center Thursday, Oct. 17 from 1:00 to 3:30. This event is something that Student Health Services has coordinated in the past, although planning the event is technically no longer its responsibility.

“When the clinic was open here, we would do it out of the clinic, but we knew we needed to get as many people vaccinated before the flu starts, because otherwise we end up with lots of cases,” Krause explained.

Krause worked with the Calhoun County Health Department to bring the flu vaccine clinic to Albion. Busy with providing vaccines at their own facility, located across the street from Biggby Coffee, the Health Department could only come to Albion for two and a half hours. Over the past two weeks that they have had the vaccines available, the Health Department has provided over one thousand vaccinations for the Albion community.

“[The Health Department was] very glad that they came, because when we walked in there was already a line, fifteen minutes before it was supposed to start, so it worked out very well this year,” Krause said. “They were all of the way out to the back, to the doors.”

The Health Department billed students for the vaccine clinic through insurance and Medicaid but also took cash and credit cards. According to Krause, none of the students who came to the clinic were expected to pay out of pocket costs.

But over the two and a half hours that the Health Department was present on campus, only 125 students received their flu vaccinations. 

Krause explained that because the cost of making the vaccine itself went up, the cost for the flu vaccine without insurance this year went up from $25 last year to $40 this year. While the steeper price this year may turn some students away, this is the average price for flu vaccinations without insurance this year. 

Although some people tend to be skeptical about the efficiency of vaccines, the price seems well worth it considering the conservative estimate that 1300 people died from the flu in Michigan last year. That being said, Michigan, specifically Detroit and the Upper Peninsula, has one of the lowest percentages of people who actually get the flu vaccine in the U.S. during the 2018-2019 flu season. 

Krause explained that one good thing about the Affordable Care Act, in recent years, is that flu shots are now considered preventative medicine. This means that they are covered by Medicaid, as well as most commercial insurances. 

Preparing for Flu Season

While the flu season doesn’t start until around Christmas break, it’s good to be prepared. Students can still get  flu shots as a walk-in at the Calhoun County Health Department, Young’s Pharmacy and the Family Fare Pharmacy in Albion before then. 

Krause offered some quick tips for avoiding the Flu. Obviously, try to get your flu shot, but you should also remember the basics: wash hands with soap and water often, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. 

If you do come down with the flu, even with the stress of school and exams, try to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, though you should avoid caffeine and alcohol. You should also eat lighter meals and store up on tissues and soap. 

Over the counter medicines that are actually helpful are nasal sprays, pain relievers like Tylenol and aspirin, decongestants and Excedrin Migraine.

However, you should see a doctor if fever or vomiting symptoms last for multiple days, or you feel excessively tired (Yes, even more than usual).

About Kellie Brown 32 Articles
Kellie Brown is a senior English Professional Writing and History double major from Traverse City, Michigan.

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