Harvard University Health Services will provide vaccination coping strategies to students and collaborate directly with the Harvard Athletics Department in an effort to increase the undergraduate flu vaccination rate by at least 20 percent, according to HUHS Senior Director of Nursing and Health Promotion Maria Francesconi.
The new initiatives will be part of this year’s iteration of the HUHS flu vaccine campaign, which begins Sept. 30. Francesconi said in an interview that roughly half of College students are vaccinated against the flu each year.
“[We’ve] held steady for about the last five years where we're getting about half the undergraduates,” Francesconi said. “The Harvard community itself had a slightly higher rate of influenza-like illness last year than what we saw in the rest of the country.”
HUHS has vaccinated around 3,000 undergraduates each year through their walk-in and dining hall clinics, according to HUHS Infection Control Surveillance Officer Donna Campbell. Though the walk-in clinics are open to all Harvard affiliates — students, faculty, employees, and retirees — the dining hall clinics are geared toward undergraduates.
In addition to encouraging the general student population to get vaccinated, HUHS is also targeting the Harvard Athletics Department for the first time by reaching out to coaches and holding vaccination clinics for athletes.
“We’re doing some work with Athletics to really target the athletes — athletes, in and of themselves — because they spend so much time in tight quarters,” Francesconi said. “If they do get it it can run very quickly through teams.”
To encourage more students to participate, HUHS will launch a social media campaign showcasing administrators participating in the flu vaccine clinics. They will also publicize the times of the flu clinics on Omni — an app that provides information to Harvard students — and give students distraction strategies to cope with the pain of getting vaccinations.
“The HealthPALs at the dining halls are also going to bring some stuffed animals, and they're going to have laptops with cat and dog videos to try to distract people, because we've heard that part of people not getting the vaccine is that they're worried about the needles,” Francesconi said. “We're trying to have some techniques to distract people and encouraging people to bring a buddy.”
HUHS is also delaying the start of its clinics this year after CDC research revealed that vaccines given later in the year cover people for longer, according to Campbell. She said HUHS used to provide immunization clinics as soon as they received shipments of the vaccine from manufacturers, which could be as early as August.
“Certainly for some of the older folks — some of the employees — it certainly could make a difference if you give them a flu shot in August,” Campbell said. “It’s pretty well worn off by April.”
—Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.