Preventing a ‘twindemic’

University vaccine requirements are being implemented to battle a flu season topped by the pandemic.

USC Student Health has established fall and spring flu vaccination requirements in an effort to lessen the potential of an influenza and COVID-19 twindemic.

Currently, students who live on campus are required to have a flu vaccination while students who live off campus are not. Students can schedule an outdoor, socially distanced flu vaccine appointment through the MySHR Portal and receive the vaccine free of charge if they have student health insurance. Students without insurance will need to pay $20. Flu vaccines are also available at urgent care facilities and at local pharmacies like Target.

USC employees are not required to receive a flu vaccination, but are strongly encouraged to do so. Medical and religious exemption forms will continue to be accessible to students who cannot meet the vaccination requirement.

Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman said in a briefing Tuesday that USC Student Health has administered over 1,000 vaccines this semester.*

Students will be required to be vaccinated should they return to on-campus instruction in the spring. Van Orman explained that although the goal is to return students to in-person classes next semester, the decision will be predicated on the local public health condition.

The University of California (UC) system is taking similar public health measures by mandating all UC students, faculty, staff and their families be vaccinated by Oct. 31. The mandates are being enforced through a UC executive order that went into effect at the end of July.

Van Orman addressed how some students and young adults are apprehensive about receiving the vaccination. “You’re not only protecting yourself, but you’re also protecting other people who you’re exposing before you know you even have [the flu],” she said.

The threat presented by flu season and COVID-19 has officials concerned about an overwhelming strain on an already heavily impacted healthcare system. “Not only is there an issue about the healthcare system, but we also don’t know how someone might be affected if they’re co-infected… we’re really worried about that” Van Orman said.

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise within the USC community.

Van Orman announced Tuesday that University Park Campus is the site of Los Angeles' fastest growing COVID-19 rate. Students returning to the area for the semester have gathered in large and small groups between online instruction.

In the case that a COVID-19 vaccine arrives before the spring semester, Van Orman said the decision to require or strongly encourage students to receive the vaccination will be dependent on two things—distribution and effectiveness.

According to Van Orman, federal and state prioritization and subsequent distribution of the vaccine will factor into whether a mandate is needed.

In addition to distribution, vaccine effectiveness will also impact whether or not USC requires students to vaccinate. “If it’s a vaccine that’s only 50% effective and it just attenuates or reduces severe disease, yeah, that’s probably not a vaccine that we’re going to make required,” said Van Orman. “Where [as] if the vaccine performs at a much higher level then that’s something that we would consider making required.”

*Correction: A previous version of this article said that USC Student Health had given over 8,000 flu vaccines this semester. Student health has administered over 1,000 vaccines this semester but received a shipment of 8,000 vaccines for future administration this week. Annenberg Media regrets this error.