Editorial: Tufts should mandate flu vaccination, improve logistics

During the early months of 2018, a particularly devastating winter, an estimated 80,000 Americans died because of the flu. The previous recent record death toll stood at 56,000. In some families, the idea of getting yearly flu-shots has been ingrained since childhood, while for others, the flu shot is viewed as something optional — unnecessary even. Universities, a prime location for contagion due the density of people on campus, should mandate their students, professors and staff get yearly flu shots. Tufts should implement an annual flu-shot policy to protect both members of the university and the surrounding community from the devastating consequences of the flu.

The purpose of the flu shot is simple: protect ourselves and, more importantly, highly vulnerable populations. As a higher number of people in the general population get vaccinated, the rate of circulation of the virus decreases, thus protecting the weakest of the herd — young children and those older than 65. It’s important to keep in mind that not only Tufts University, but Medford and the greater Boston area feel the debilitating effects of an insufficiently vaccinated population. Immunocompromised people that reside nearby indirectly rely on the healthy population’s flu vaccines, so this isn’t just about increased absences or echoing coughs in lecture. It’s about protecting those of us who aren’t as well-equipped to protect ourselves from this potentially fatal yet common virus.

While various students and members of faculty make sure to get their flu shots on a yearly basis, many are not able to, either due to economic restraints or lack of accessibility. By mandating a campus-wide flu-shot policy, the university will significantly help eliminate the factors holding people back from getting the vaccine. While some may argue that receiving the vaccine is a personal choice, immunizing all at this institution would lead to increased herd immunity. There are, of course, certain cases where people should avoid getting the vaccine: For example, those with severe allergies to ingredients in the flu vaccine should make sure to consult with a doctor or possibly steer clear from receiving it altogether.

For the majority, however, mandating the flu shot would not only help protect the individual receiving the vaccine from harm, but also make sure that their families and the nearby communities are not put in danger. Since the flu is able to be passed on before individuals show symptoms, an infected individual is able to communicate the virus easily, making the flu particularly dangerous. 

There are many steps the university can take toward making it easier for students who are hindered from accessing the flu shot. One of the most common reasons for abstaining from getting the vaccine is the lack of accessibility or time. On-campus clinics are brief, and off-campus pharmacies are not easy options for Tufts students with packed schedules. By setting up pop-up clinics at easily accessible points on campus, such as the Mayer Campus Center or the entrance to the Tisch Library, students across campus will be able to quickly and efficiently get their flu shot on the way to class. Spreading out the location points of these pop-up clinics will also reduce long lines and the complete shutdown of other aspects of Tufts Health Service during flu-shot clinics.

Furthermore, the university should ensure that the flu shots are free for everyone on campus. Completely eliminating any fees, copays or contributions from students would likely boost student acceptance of vaccines, and by making vaccines free for faculty and staff, Tufts would be protecting the community as well as providing an important service and benefit to employees. By implementing a mandatory, free and accessible flu vaccination policy, Tufts would take a huge leap towards protecting its community members.