Flu shot clinics open this week
Stanford flu clinics open this week. Rich Wittman, the medical director of Stanford’s Occupational Health Clinic in Environmental Health & Safety, explains what to expect from this year’s influenza season.
Stanford provides free flu shots to Stanford faculty, staff, postdocs, students, and retirees through the Stanford University Occupational Health Center and Vaden Health Center on a drop-in or by appointment basis. This year’s flu clinics kick off on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an expanded number of locations across campus, and will continue to administer the vaccine through early November. A full list of clinic dates and locations is available at flu.stanford.edu.
Rich Wittman, the medical director of Stanford’s Occupational Health Clinic in Environmental Health & Safety, explains what to expect this flu season, why it is important to get a flu shot, and how you can help promote good health this flu season.
What should the Stanford community expect from this year’s flu season?
I would anticipate that we will see more cases of flu this year than in recent years due to a decrease in social distancing and face masking, and an increase in travel and gatherings, as many of us have returned toward pre-COVID socialization. That said, in past years, Stanford community members have been very good at prioritizing flu vaccination and practicing good health hygiene and other preventive behaviors, including staying home when ill, which has helped to keep our community healthy during the flu season.
We certainly learned during COVID that flu transmission dynamics can be interrupted with face masking, good hand hygiene, and staying home when sick, which may help flatten the curve. That noted, since individuals can be infectious before they have symptoms, and people can still shed virus when they are feeling better, vaccination is the most effective tool in minimizing illness severity.
Last year, Vaden Health Services and our Occupational Health Centers administered over 5,000 flu shots, free of charge, to faculty, staff, postdocs, and students. This year we are holding flu clinics at an expanded number of locations on campus, from late September to early November.
What can you tell us about the predominant flu strain this year?
We often receive questions about how well the flu vaccine this year matches the circulating flu strains. Data from Australia reveals a very high percentage match of vaccine strains to the circulating virus, which is promising, but there are many factors that impact what might happen in the United States.
In general, in reviewing the seasonal flu data from the southern hemisphere winter (our summer), we see higher flu activity than last year, with a slightly mixed picture from country to country. From a severity standpoint, Australia saw an early-mid season peak in hospitalizations, at a level higher than last year, but lower than the pre-COVID years.
“Getting a flu shot is a simple and effective way to safeguard personal health while contributing to community efforts to control the spread of the flu. Plus, it reduces the likelihood that you, your friends, and your family will miss work, school, and other events together.”
Medical Director, Stanford Occupational Health Clinic
When does flu activity usually peak in California?
Often there are multiple influenza waves during the season, with typically an initial rise in influenza A cases, followed by influenza B. While we typically see the highest number of flu cases in late December to early February, each year is different, and I follow the CDC’s county-by-county map to monitor the weekly rise in flu-like illness.
I also find it extremely valuable to track flu virus, as well as COVID-19 and other viral diseases, through the wastewater dashboards. Historically flu illness will rise in the East and Southeast regions of the U.S. ahead of Northern California, and I will use the rise in wastewater levels outside the Bay Area as a leading indicator of what may occur here.
Since Stanford conducts our own wastewater tracking for campus at CODIGA, I will follow the current wastewater levels of flu and other flu-like illness at Stanford and in local communities to help inform my personal decisions about masking when around large groups and when traveling. Currently, we are seeing an initial rise in Influenza A at CODIGA.
When is the best time to get a flu shot? How long does it take to build immunity?
It takes roughly two weeks to build full protection, so we usually recommend getting vaccinated by late October, ahead of Thanksgiving travel and the typical flu-like illness case rise in mid-November. Given the recent recommendation for everyone to obtain an updated COVID booster, and based upon current U.S. flu trends and local wastewater levels, it makes sense to vaccinate now with the flu and address COVID boosting shortly after that. While certainly people can get both COVID and flu vaccines on the same day, we have found that many at Stanford prefer to separate them in time, which is a valid personal preference.
What are some of the benefits of getting the flu vaccine?
Getting a flu vaccine offers several important benefits. First, it reduces the risk of contracting the flu and its associated symptoms, including fever, cough, and severe headache with fatigue. Second, vaccination notably lowers the likelihood of severe complications, hospitalization, and even death, especially for high-risk groups such as young children, those over 65 years of age, and those with underlying health conditions. And third, getting a flu shot can help to promote herd immunity, which is when the overall spread of the virus is reduced within a community as a result of vaccination.
Getting a flu shot is a simple and effective way to safeguard personal health while contributing to community efforts to control the spread of the flu. Plus, it reduces the likelihood that you, your friends, and your family will miss work, school, and other events together.
What else can community members do to prevent the spread of flu on campus?
In addition to getting vaccinated against the flu, it’s important to stay home when you are sick, and wear a face mask in crowded settings when you think you might be sick or if you have been sick recently. It is also important to practice good hand hygiene by regularly washing your hands with soap and water, and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow instead of your hand when you cough or sneeze.
Will new COVID vaccinations be offered on campus?
Faculty and staff should contact their primary care provider or local pharmacy to receive the updated COVID vaccine, which is now available. Students should pay close attention to any communications coming from Vaden and Student Affairs about vaccine availability on and off campus. Overall, we strongly recommend community members stay up-to-date with CDC COVID-19 vaccination recommendations.