Friendly Reminder: You Can Probably Get a Flu Shot For Free on Your College Campus

You have a lot on your plate as a college student, but don't let that stand in the way of getting your flu shot — because if there's one thing you can't afford, it's spending several days sick in bed with the flu this winter. The good news? Getting a flu shot is quick and easy, and you don't need to scrape together a bunch of cash to pay for it, either.

Many campus health centers offer free flu shots to students either for a limited time or throughout flu season, and you can usually pop in and get the vaccine in mere minutes without an appointment, just as you would at your local pharmacy. (Though you should check first, especially during COVID-19.) Additionally, if you've opted in to your school's student health insurance plan, the flu shot may be covered at no out-of-pocket cost. And even if neither of these options are available to you, the flu shot is likely offered on campus for the same $20 to $40 you'd pay without insurance at a drugstore.

"As healthcare professionals, our mission is to encourage healthy behaviors and preventive measures, which will have the greatest impact for our community," Vanessa Tilney, MD, executive director and chief physician at the University of Houston Student Health Center, told POPSUGAR. "Studies have shown that widespread influenza vaccination for college students can reduce doctor visits, antibiotic use, missed classes, academic performance impairment, and illnesses during flu season."

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of illness by 40 to 60 percent among the general population when it's well-matched with the strains that are circulating that year. Given the number of people you cross paths with on campus, any amount of protection is better than none.

"Influenza can impact student success, and each student is different, so how they respond to flu symptoms will range from mild to severe," Dr. Tilney said. "Any missed days of class, missed assignment due dates, or missed exams may have a negative impact on a student's semester."

How to Prevent Spreading the Flu on Campus

If you do end up catching the flu, how quickly you'll heal depends on the severity of your symptoms. Most people with milder symptoms should feel better within three to four days. Typically, you can return to class once you're feeling well and have not had a fever for 24 hours (without taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other medicines to control it). However, with COVID-19 also a factor on campus this year, you should talk to a doctor to ensure that your symptoms are, in fact, the flu and discuss a timeline for safely returning to work and school.

While the flu is often preventable, it can pose significant risks for vulnerable populations, causing disruptions at school and in some cases, fatal complications, Dr. Tilney told POPSUGAR. Take these additional steps to prevent passing the virus to someone else or catching it in the first place:

  • Practice social distancing, and wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or apply an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, as germs can spread this way.
  • Stay home if you don't feel well.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw tissues in the trash after you use them.