If all the coughing, sniffling students on campus are any indication, flu season has descended upon Yale. And, as it does every year, the University is gearing up to accommodate demand for flu shots.

Yale University Health Services began offering vaccination clinics for students, faculty and staff in the Branford College common room Tuesday, providing the service free of charge to any members of the Yale community who seek it, regardless of whether or not they are on the Yale Health Plan.

YUHS Director Paul Genecin said health services has administered between 14 and 17 thousand shots to the Yale community over the past several years, averaging a few thousand shots per year. But he said he expects that more people will be vaccinated this year because the vaccine is being offered in more convenient locations.

“We are going to all the residential colleges as well as to the places where there are large numbers of graduate and professional students,” he said.

In addition to residential colleges, Woolsey Hall, the School of Medicine and the Divinity School, YUHS will offer the flu vaccine at Ingalls Rink this year. Flu shots will not be available at the YUHS building this season.

The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which is highly contagious and spreads from the infected person to the nose or throat of others. Most bouts of the flu last a few days, and symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and chills. The flu shot is an inactive form of the virus, and it provides protection that can last up to a year, YUHS officials said.

Individuals with specific health conditions, including chronic lung problems, diseases affecting the immune system and heart disease, are at a higher risk for contracting the flu, Genecin said.

But for the average healthy student, he said, the flu vaccine is a beneficial option, not a requirement.

Genecin said the influenza vaccine changes each year and is designed to cover strains of the virus that will most likely become common in the following year. But he said the protection offered by the vaccine is not absolute in the case of unforeseen changes in the character of the virus.

“This year’s flu shot is not designed to offer protection against unpredictable shifts in influenza strains such as we might see in a pandemic,” Genecin said.

Many Yalies said they are not taking any risks — evidenced by the steady stream of students that filed into Branford to get the vaccination on Tuesday. But some said they found it confusing that the vaccine was not being offered at the YUHS building, as it has been in the past, because students might not hear about the flu clinic stations.

Pamela Brown ’11 said she received the vaccination last week before the wider vaccination campaign began when she went to YUHS for an unrelated condition. She said she had noticed an increase in the number of students getting sick and wanted to take all extra precautions to boost her immune system.

“It’s worth it to get the shot if it means avoiding getting the flu,” Brown said. “I don’t want to be stuck in my dorm room because I got sick.”

Gabriel Rabinowitz ’11, who received the vaccination Tuesday at Branford, said she had an autoimmune disorder that made getting the shot necessary. She said she thinks offering the vaccinations at the residential colleges early in the season is a good idea because it makes it more convenient for students and allows them to take early steps to fight the virus.

But she said she did not hear about other flu clinic stations and only knew about the Branford opportunity because of a flier.

But not all students interviewed said they are eager to get the vaccine, partly because they are unsure that the flu shot is entirely necessary.

“I feel like there are so many strands of the virus that one vaccine cannot protect you,” Blair Kenney ’08 said. “There is some risk with all vaccines, and in this case I think the risks outweigh the benefits.”

And others — like Sam Gensburg ’11 — cited less serious reasons for avoiding the flu shot.

“I just hate getting shots,” he said.