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College students considering getting flu shot because of coronavirus pandemic

Health experts are strongly encouraging students to get their annual flu shot this year to free up resources and services for treating COVID-19 patients.

TOLEDO, Ohio — A "Twindemic" outbreak of both the flu and the coronavirus is a growing concern on college campuses where annual flu vaccination rates are strikingly low among students. 

Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Flu and COVID-19 can both result in serious illness, including illness resulting in hospitalization or death.

It is possible to contract both viruses at the same time as well as back-to-back so health experts are strongly encouraging college students to get their annual flu shot this year to make sure medical resources and services are there to serve students who may be exposed to COVID-19. 

Dayna Dec, a freshman at the University of Toledo said she never needed to get the flu shot before but this year will be different because of the pandemic. 

"My boyfriend's younger brother has a really weak immune system so I wouldn't be able to go over there if I didn't get one," she said. 

A National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Survey conducted by Harris Poll of 18-24 year old undergraduate students, showed vaccination rates on college campuses hover between 8-39% falling dramatically short of the 70% recommendation.

The top reason for not getting a flu vaccine was students believed they were healthy and didn't need it, according to the survey. 

"[The flu] is a different disease anyway and I'm not too afraid of the coronavirus because I'm younger and healthier. I don't think that'll change with getting a flu shot," said Jacob Seed, a freshman at UToledo. 

Chief Health Officer Ben Batey with Bowling Green State University said even though college students may be low-risk for adverse outcomes of the flu, they still should think about others.

"That doesn't mean that they're also not going to spread the flu to other people," Batey said. "So when we're asking younger individuals who may be low risk to get that flu shot, they're really not doing it for themselves. They're doing it for their loved ones and other people in the community and that's what we advocate for."

Access to the vaccine at low or no cost and incentives, such as free food or gift cards were among the top offerings that students say would have a lot of impact on the likelihood of getting vaccinated, according to the survey. 

At BGSU, students can go to the Falcon Health Center to get their flu shot. 

The university will also have vaccination clinics set up around campus this fall for faculty, staff and students. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone 6 months and older, with rare exceptions, get a yearly flu vaccine. According to the CDC, September and October are good times to get vaccinated, but be mindful that as long as flu viruses are circulating, you can still get vaccinated in January or later.

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