By Gillian Taylor | Staff Writer
Health officials have observed low numbers of flu vaccinations in McLennan County and the Baylor community, aligning with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows fewer Americans have been getting the vaccine in the last three years.
Dr. Sharon Stern, medical director at the Baylor Health Center, said the Baylor Health Center has administered around 900 flu vaccines this season — 500 fewer than it had administered this time last season. There are currently more than 20,000 students enrolled at Baylor, according to a press release. Stern said the decrease in vaccinations is having a direct impact on the number of flu cases on campus.
Stern said the influenza A virus tends to be the most serious out of the flu viruses and causes the most severe side effects. Typically, she said, the Baylor Health Center sees only a handful of cases each season; however, it has already seen 67 positive cases of influenza A this season.
Vaidehi Shah, senior epidemiologist for the Waco-McLennan County Health District, said this season, there is a decrease in numerous vaccinations that are routinely recommended, beyond just the flu vaccination. She said the reason for this may be “vaccine fatigue” or “pandemic fatigue.”
During the pandemic, Stern said people were much more aware and concerned about getting vaccines — one thing that has changed this year.
“I think people are sick of the whole thing,” Stern said. “They’re sick of shots and infections and thinking about masks and all that stuff.”
Shah said there is also an increase in other respiratory diseases in the county, including COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the common cold. She said a possible explanation for this is that immunity is lower than usual because there have been protocols limiting daily exposure over the past two years.
“When you have those small doses of exposure every day, you start developing immunity to viruses,” Shah said. “Now, over the past two years, we have had this decline in immunity because we were not exposed to them, and that’s why this year, we are a lot more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.”
Shah said the U.S. typically follows a pattern similar to that of the Southern Hemisphere. Places like Australia and New Zealand had a more severe flu season than usual. With holidays coming up, she said McLennan County can expect a similar season, due to many indoor gatherings.
According to Stern, the flu season’s peak typically falls between January and February, so the number of cases is only expected to rise. She said she urges students to receive their vaccine to combat these numbers.
Although college students aren’t the most at-risk for the disease, Stern said they should view the vaccine as a way to protect those most at-risk, such as the elderly and the young.
“College students should think of getting a flu vaccine like a community service,” Stern said. “Just like working for Steppin’ Out or doing anything like that, you are doing a service to help others. It is important for your own health, but it is really important when you’re looking at how your health affects others in the community.”
Stern said students can choose to go to a flu shot clinic or the Baylor Health Center for the flu vaccine, but either way, it’s best to make an appointment. Students can schedule an appointment through the health portal or by calling 254-710-1010. To view the flu shot clinic schedule, click here.