UA reports 25% flu positivity rate as vaccinations lag 

Ainsley Platt, Staff Reporter

At least 25% of the 1,500 flu tests conducted by the UA Student Health Center in November were positive. 

Dr. Richard Friend, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences, said campus cases are high and vaccinations are lagging. 

“In the month of November, we saw a steep increase in the cases of flu,” Friend said. “We have seen several hundred cases in the last four weeks.”

Cases and deaths last flu season were historically low due to COVID-19 regulations. However, many public health experts have expressed concerns that the lack of a flu season last year, which could impact overall flu immunity, will exacerbate the flu season this year.

College campuses are particularly at risk, as the lowest flu vaccination rates are historically among college-aged adults

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker, the percentage of positive flu cases in the United States has increased over the past four weeks, from 0.3% positivity to 1.5%. 

In the first week of November, 211 cases were reported to the CDC by both public health and clinical laboratories nationwide. In the week ending Nov. 27, 964 cases had been reported for the week, representing a 456% increase in weekly cases across the United States. 

Despite the high number of cases on campus, there has not been a statewide outbreak so far, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. However, the West Central region of the state, where Tuscaloosa is located, has “significant” flu activity, and currently has the highest flu activity level in the state.

“Campus, particularly students, appear to have a higher positivity rate for flu than the rest of the community,” Friend said.

The University has administered over 6,500 flu vaccines this year. In a typical year, that number would have already exceeded 10,000.

“We’ve had a lot of flu vaccine hesitancy,” Friend said. “I think particularly among the students, they’re tired of vaccines. There’s vaccine fatigue.”

Friend reported a circulating belief among students that their COVID-19 vaccine will protect them from the flu, which is not true.

“[Students] absolutely need to get their flu shot. We don’t want anybody to get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time,” Friend said.

Students can get their flu vaccine for free at the Student Health Center on a walk-in basis between 4 and 4:45pm. 

Flu vaccines are free and no insurance is required, but students and employees must provide their campuswide identification number, or CWID. Spouses of employees can also receive the free flu vaccine at campus flu shot sites or at University Medical Center. 

The College of Community Health Sciences has also hosted pop-up vaccine clinics this semester. 

“We’ve been to the Quad. We’ve been to several dorms. We’ve tried to go to places where most of the students are,” he said. “We’ve been across campus already, but we’re looking to go back around to try and increase [vaccine] uptake after the holiday.”

Friend also commented on the potential for students to spread the flu to their hometown communities after they go home for winter break. He said the mitigation measures similar to COVID-19 protocols can and should be taken if someone shows symptoms.

“If people continue to wear masks appropriately, social distance appropriately — especially if you’re not feeling well — I think that’s the best thing to do,” Friend said.