On Oct. 8, University of California (UC) President Michael V. Drake announced via press release and
executive order a flu vaccine mandate for all UC students, faculty, academic appointees, and staff. They must be vaccinated by Nov. 19, 2021 and can be vaccinated by on or off-campus providers.
For those who do not want to be vaccinated, they may opt to decline by completing a Vaccine Declination Statement, which is provided by their school’s health department, by the same vaccine deadline. There are no specific exemption requirements; anyone can opt to decline. However, choosing to do so means that they must also adhere to other safety practices, such as wearing masks and undergoing routine testing as determined by their school.
President Drake outlined two primary reasons for this executive order: to reduce the number of severe cases of the flu virus and to prevent our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. He cited multiple studies proving the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in preventing severe symptoms and deaths. Finally, he referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendations regarding the flu vaccine.
There is an expected rise in COVID-19 cases during fall and winter, and since the flu has traditionally surged during these seasons, the likelihood of overwhelming an unprepared healthcare system is high. The press release also notes that the similarity between flu and COVID-19 symptoms can lead to confusion when someone is infected with either virus and cause them to not seek proper treatment.
In an email to The Bottom Line, Vejas Skripkus, UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) executive director of Student Health, said, “I agree with the order and I fully support it. President Drake is correct that the burden to our healthcare system with both a COVID-19 surge and a bad influenza season would be overwhelming. Influenza and COVID-19 are serious respiratory illnesses; both can kill and getting them at the same time increases your risk of becoming seriously unwell.”
He also pointed out that last year’s record low flu cases and deaths may be a sign of trouble for this year: “Usually, flu seasons are easier to handle when some portion of the population has a natural immunity as a result of an infection in the previous year. Since fewer people had the flu last year, we will see less natural population immunity this year. That is why receiving the flu vaccine is so important this year and may have contributed to the executive order.”
As to whether the vaccine mandate will become annual or whether the flu vaccine might be added to the list of vaccines students must have, Skripkus said, “I don’t know the answer to this. It will most certainly depend on what our COVID-19 case rates in the state and the county are at that time and what type of flu season we have in store for us this year. I have not heard anything about the flu vaccine being added to the list of other required entry immunizations for students at this time.”
The general response for the mandate seems to be positive among students and medical staff. Skripkus mentioned that there has not been any pushback at all from medical staff. For students, they mostly either support it or do not mind it.
“I think it’s important to try to help our community out,” said Nick, a third year economics major. “Getting a flu vaccine isn’t too hard to do, you know?”
Overall, requiring people to be vaccinated for the flu and for COVID-19 makes it seem likely that UCSB Student Health will not be overwhelmed and will be effective in dealing with both illnesses this season.