Public health, personal concern on students’ minds as flu shot deadline approaches

Venessa Cordero Liberato, a digital media and design major, receives her flu shot on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff.

Callie Justice

The University of Kentucky is requiring all students and faculty who live on or visit campus to receive a flu shot by Nov. 1.

Initially announced on Oct. 8, this new mandate is part of UK’s ongoing response to COVID-19 but has left some students upset and reluctant to comply.

UK partnered with Kroger for the flu vaccinations; the shot is free of charge for students living on campus and will be billed to a student’s insurance if they have it. If not, the cost is covered by UK. Students can make an appointment to receive their flu shot at one of several campus locations by visiting; students should bring their student ID, insurance card if available and the voucher found on the website.

According to UK spokesperson Jay Blanton, only 2,500 students have complied with the flu shot mandate as of Oct. 21 – leaving another 22,500 shots to be given in the next two weeks. Each shot is costing the University $25, meaning roughly $625,000 is going towards this precaution. Blanton said it is too early for UK to comment on student compliance with the vaccination but plan on reminding students to make their appointments and emphasizing the importance of the flu shots.

National leaders like Dr. Anthony Fauci and local health departments across the country have stressed the importance of flu shots this year, amping up their public health campaigns around and aiming to vaccinate as many people as possible to prevent the spread of a second disease this year.

“Flu shots are especially important this year because we don’t want to have widespread flu outbreaks in the middle of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The flu season in a regular year creates additional visits to medical offices and hospitals, and we want to make sure the burden isn’t too great this year during COVID-19,” said Kevin Hall of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.

Reducing flu cases, a positive in the first place, has the added benefit of opening up space in emergency rooms and intensive care units so hospitals can cope with a rising wave of COVID-19 cases. Nationwide, the average number of flu deaths has ranged from 22,000 to 61,000 in the last eight years, according to the CDC. The pandemic has already killed 225,000 Americans this year according to Johns Hopkins’ COVID-19 tracking page.

Students are uncertain of the required flu shot, wary of UK overstepping its bounds as a university.

Regan Martin, a senior studying business marketing and neuroscience, shared that sentiment.

“I was planning on getting a flu shot, but when I heard they were requiring it I was like ‘oh that’s kind of aggressive,’” Martin said.

This is the first time UK has required flu shots for students, though some vaccinations – such as meningitis — are mandated prior to a student’s freshman year.

“I don’t think anything medically should be required by the University that isn’t the typical routine booster shots, but I see where they are coming from. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it,” said Ethan Sharp, a sophomore studying integrated strategic communications.

Some students share Sharp’s opinion that although they might not agree with the requirement, they understand both why the university is doing it and how it benefits public health.

“I would have settled on making it an available opportunity for people if they had wanted to go get a flu shot,” Martin said. “I love that they are doing them in the student center and giving vouchers for it to go to Kroger but I’m not so sure about them mandating it for every single student.”

Kentucky state law does say that “ in the event of an epidemic in a given area, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services may, by emergency regulation, require the immunization of all persons within the area of epidemic, against the disease responsible for such epidemic.”

However, that law would primarily apply to a COVID-19 vaccine, which is not available yet. Flu is not the disease responsible for the pandemic, although its medical relevance to public health in general could be used as justification for the mandate.; and, in bad flu years, the flu can be considered a local epidemic.

Still, some students feel that getting a flu shot should be a personal decision, not a requirement.

“I don’t feel like we need to be forced to take it, it should be a choice and students should go if they want to,” Abriel Mansfield, a freshman and art studio major, said.

Quin Yessin, a first year medical student, said he wished students had been given a warning coming in about the requirement.

“I think that UK should have announced that they were going to mandate flu shots at the start of the semester rather than deciding to wait halfway through,” Yessin said.

While exemptions exist, students have to appeal to the Disability Resources Center for medical risks such as egg and mercury allergies or Guillain-Barré syndrome. Students who wish to opt out of the flu shot for religious reasons are supposed to contact UK Health Corps.

And while many students recognize the benefits of the flu shot, especially for protecting the larger community, they fear the precedent UK has set of a mandatory vaccination and would rather have a choice in the matter

Freshman Wychofflyn Morris was not planning to get a flu shot, but will because UK requires it.

“I feel like once you make us take flu shots you are going to try to force people to take the corona vaccine,” Morris said.

Yessin, Mansfield and Sharp shared the same concern over UK instituting a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine. Though no vaccine has been approved yet, several are in development, including one in a clinical trial at UK. Prior to COVID-19 the fastest a vaccine has been produced was four years for mumps.