Flu season is here: Time to get vaccinated

Originally posted in the WSU Insider on September 23, 2020

Student pharmacists Olivia Hiskey practices administering an intramuscular injection on Tristan Hilton using a sponge. At the end of the hour, every student pharmacist is required to perform three types of injections on their partners using a saline solution.

In no other year has a flu shot been more important.

Immunization experts at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences warn that the addition of another respiratory illness such as the flu on top of COVID-19 could overburden health care systems, strain local testing capacity and increase the risk of complications from either disease.

“Even for young and healthy college students, COVID-19 can put a lot of stress on the respiratory system,” said Kimberly McKeirnan, a vaccines expert in point of care training and associate professor of pharmacotherapy. “So, if we can decrease the incidence of respiratory complications from the flu, it is going to increase our overall quality of care.”

Washington State University is doing its part to help.

Starting Sept. 25, Cougar Health Services at WSU Pullman will again be offering free flu shots to faculty, staff and students every Friday through Nov. 6. All visitors will be required to complete an attestation form via myWSU prior to arrival. This week, Flu Shot Friday is being held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center. Students in Pullman who cannot make it to one of the Friday events can make an appointment for a flu shot online or by calling Cougar Health Services at 509-335-3575.

Flu shots are covered 100% by most insurance plans and are also offered at Walmart, RiteAid, CVS, and other major pharmacies. Immunization events at other campuses across the WSU system will be announced as they become available.

Nicole Rodin, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said that is important for everyone, regardless of age, to get vaccinated early in the flu season, which peaks from December to February.

“Even if you personally wouldn’t get that sick from the flu, getting a flu shot strengthens your immune system so that you are less likely to give it to someone else,” she said. “The people who are most at risk from the flu are the elderly, the very young and those with underlying conditions.”

Rodin is currently leading the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ efforts to certify second-year pharmacy students to administer flu shots at pharmacies across the state. The training also includes preparation for administering COVID-19 shots if and when a vaccine becomes available. She said certification this year was a bit unusual because it required a combination of both virtual learning and in-person evaluation both at WSU Spokane and other partner pharmacies. To date, more than 120 student pharmacists have been certified.

“Our students are giving vaccines all over,” she said. “In addition to working in pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS and RiteAid, they will also be going to different high schools and community health centers to provide a variety of vaccines. The more people we can get vaccinated the better.”