Gators Control Flu Postponed, Alachua County Program Continues

By
A University of Florida Student Health Care registered nurse, Margaret Berry, gives Anyoliny Sanchez, a first-year UF student, her first flu shot. With the postponement of Gators Control Flu, UF students can no longer get the FluMist for free on campus, only flu shots. Lindsay Alexander / WUFT

University of Florida students expected to have options for receiving flu vaccines last Tuesday on Turlington Plaza.

Students could have chosen to get either a needle shot or the nasal spray option, known as FluMist.

Instead, all they could get was the needle shot.

A FluMist distribution issue in early October caused a shortage, said Andrew Lampert, the Control Flu Alachua County program coordinator.

FluMist is more effective at controlling flu than a shot because it administers flu antibodies through the nose rather than the bloodstream, said Alexander Shaw, president of Gators Control Flu.

“Someone who gets the flu shot can still be a carrier of flu,” Shaw said. “Our mist is actually able to halt transmission of the virus.”

Gators Control Flu, a division of Control Flu Alachua County, planned to offer FluMist to students Tuesday for the third time since September.

The FluMist would have been free to UF students with health insurance.

“It’s an unfortunate thing,” Lampert said.

Control Flu Alachua County canceled the remaining two Gators Control Flu FluMist clinics, Lampert said.

However, Control Flu Alachua County is still offering free FluMist vaccines to all Alachua County public school students from Oct. 5 through Nov. 17, with the earliest dates reserved for elementary schools.

“We needed to make sure we have enough vaccines for the school program we already have,” Lampert said.

Shaw, a microbiology and cell science major, said Control Flu hadn’t touched the college community before September, excluding a pilot program in spring.

“I’m a little bummed out just because the whole point of extending the Control Flu program to UF was for the hope of protecting the community on a larger scope,” he said, “and now that we can’t implement to the full effect at the University of Florida that we had hoped, we’ll have to wait, unfortunately, until next year to try again and then see the results.”

Lampert said these shortages will not affect the Gators Control Flu program next flu season. He said they will prepare for a stronger effort next year.

The goal of Control Flu is to immunize 70 percent of the population, Shaw said.

This creates community immunity, which means the chance for an outbreak is low, he said.

“I get the vaccine for the same reason that the organization exists,” Shaw said. “It’s to protect my community, primarily, and secondarily, is to protect myself.”

Matthew Obal, a physician assistant at UF Health, said the FluMist vaccine is a live attenuated virus, which means it replicates very slowly.

The delay allows the body to develop immunity. Recipients could develop post-nasal drip or a cough, but they cannot get the flu from the mist.

Obal said it’s best to get the vaccine in either form by Oct. 31.

Flu shots take about two weeks to take effect, said Margaret Berry, a UF Student Health Care registered nurse.

Flu season starts in October and ends in March. However, flu is always circulating, said Nadia Kovacevich, an epidemiologist for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County.

“It never goes away,” Kovacevich said. “We don’t want our citizens to think that the flu is not here in July.”

Obal recommends getting the vaccine every year because immunity decreases as time passes.

“The vaccine doesn’t protect everyone from the flu,” he said. “You can still get the flu, especially if the vaccine doesn’t have the strain for the year.”

Jill Tomar, a Buchholz High School nurse, said young children are the biggest spreaders of flu.

“They cough. They sneeze, and they wipe stuff,” Tomar said.

“They tend to spread germs a lot easier, so they can bring home those germs to parents, older siblings, younger siblings, even. With the highest rate of immunization in the elementary schools, that’s the biggest break in the cycle.”

According to a medical journal article published on PLOS one in December, approximately 50 percent of 5- to 17-year-olds in Alachua County received the vaccine.

The elderlies’ immune systems may not fight flu as well, Kovacevich said. She said getting the flu vaccine can help protect them.

Obal, who works with cancer patients, said people in contact with those who have immune system deficiencies and infants especially need to get the vaccine.

Future FluMist clinic dates for Alachua County public schools can be found on the Control Flu website.

Free flu shots are available to UF students through the UF Student Health Care Center.

Future UF flu shot clinic dates can be found on the UF Student Health Care Center website.

About Lindsay Alexander

Lindsay is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

Check Also

Not-for-profit gym gives muscle to weightlifting training

Gainesville's Ark School of Fitness makes weightlifting and wellness programs accessible to all ages and income levels.