Zoe Berg

The start of the school year marks the beginning of vaccination season at Yale.

An updated version of the influenza vaccine is currently available to all Yale students, faculty and staff, while the updated iteration of the COVID-19 vaccine is set to be available on campus by October.

The new COVID-19 vaccines will be available nationwide later this week, following their approval by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The booster shots’ arrival on campus coincides with an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Yale and New Haven communities, which has raised concerns among Yale public health experts who spoke with the News.

How do this year’s COVID-19 and flu vaccines work?

While last year’s version of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine was a bivalent booster that protected against two separate variants, the vaccination’s latest update will be monovalent and focused on providing protection against the XBB.1.5 omicron variant alone.

According to Richard Martinello, medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale New Haven Health, XBB.1.5 is no longer the most common circulating variant. However, recent data has demonstrated that the updated vaccine still helps the body to generate an effective immune response against the Omicron variants that are circulating.

“We have a very good understanding of the safety of these mRNA vaccines now,” Martinello said in an interview with the News prior to the CDC’s approval of the new COVID-19 vaccines. “So we’re very comfortable anticipating [the vaccines] becoming available.”

The vaccine protecting against the flu, on the other hand, is a quadrivalent vaccine, Martinello explained. It contains components that provide protection against four different types of the flu: the H1N1 and H3N2 strains of influenza A, and the Victoria and Yamagata strains of influenza B.

Additionally, unlike the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, the flu vaccines are made up of a protein called hemagglutinin that is purified away from the four different strains of influenza the vaccine provides protection against.

“It’s been well-known that this hemagglutinin protein is very immunogenic and can help, when vaccinated, to produce a protective response against the virus,” Martinello said. “So when we get a shot of a flu vaccine, it’s actually those proteins that are purified from the virus itself that help to immunize us and protect us.”

Who should get the COVID and flu vaccines?

According to a University-wide email sent by Madeline Wilson, the chief campus health officer and chief quality officer at Yale Health, everyone over the age of six months should receive the flu vaccine.

The CDC also recommends that people in that same age range receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine, according to a news release published Tuesday.

Martinello highlighted additional versions of the flu vaccine that are specifically formulated for different age groups. A half-dose pediatric formulation is available for younger children, while a higher-dose formulation is recommended for individuals over the age of 65.

Depending on their position at Yale, certain individuals will be required to receive the flu vaccine, both Martinello and Wilson said. Yale health care workers and health care students are required to receive the updated flu vaccine by Dec. 1.

However, the University has not yet made a decision as to whether the new version of the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandated for all students, faculty and staff. The primary series and additional booster vaccines are currently required.

Martinello said the University expects to engage in “further discussions” regarding any changes to the mandate after hearing new guidance from the FDA and CDC. 

“Even if we do not mandate the new vaccine, I would really strongly encourage everybody to get out and get vaccinated,” Martinello said, “because we know how beneficial that vaccine is not only in protecting people against COVID, but for those who do get COVID.”

Where and when can I get the COVID and flu vaccines?

Because this iteration of the COVID-19 booster vaccine has just received approval, Yale does not yet have it in stock, Wilson explained.

In an email to the News, Wilson said the University expects supplies by October, “if not sooner.” She added that an email with information about vaccines is scheduled to arrive in students’ inboxes later this week. 

Students, faculty and staff can periodically check for updates on the availability of the vaccine through the Yale Vaccine Program website and, once Yale receives a supply of the vaccine, will be able to make appointments to receive it. Wilson noted that the University made some of these appointments available for October, but that all the October appointments have already been booked.

While the COVID-19 vaccine will not be immediately available on campus, appointments to receive this year’s flu vaccine are readily available. Students, faculty and staff can schedule their vaccinations at any one of a number of locations, including both adult and family flu clinics. An option to receive a flu shot at an already-scheduled appointment with Yale Health, unrelated to getting the vaccination, is available as well.

Why should I get vaccinated?

Martinello and Wilson strongly emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the flu.

In her University-wide email, Wilson cited the capacity of the flu vaccine to prevent infection or decrease the severity of illness if one contracts the virus. She also emphasized the vaccine’s ability to provide protection to not just the recipient, but to everyone around the recipient as well.

“Vaccine reduces the risk of spreading infection to vulnerable members of your family and community, including infants, pregnant people, older individuals and those with weakened immune systems,” Wilson wrote.

In a college campus setting, where students and staff may interact with dozens of people per day, Wilson said, such community protection is vital to allowing classes, extracurriculars and other activities to move forward without posing any danger to those involved.

Ned Swansey ’25 agreed with Wilson’s sentiment, citing students’ responsibility to not just their own health but to that of their peers and professors.

“As a large and relatively insular community, there’s a lot of potential for illnesses to spread if people don’t get vaccinated,” Swansey wrote to the News. “I believe that as students, we have a responsibility to get vaccinated not just for our own health but also to protect other students, faculty and staff.”

A risk for significant complications and a recent increase in the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19-related illness also factors into the importance of getting vaccinated, according to Martinello.

As COVID-19 becomes endemic in a similar way to the flu, he explained, the public should take the lessons learned from the pandemic into their wider mindset towards preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses.

“During the years of COVID, we’ve come to learn that the transmission of these respiratory viruses is in large part preventable through what we would call non-pharmaceutical interventions — so, doing things like keeping your distance, staying home when you’re sick and wearing a mask,” Martinello said. “And I think not only should we continue to apply those behaviors when we’re concerned about COVID, but I think we should think more broadly about them to include other respiratory viruses, especially influenza.”

The Campus COVID Resource Line is available at (203) 432-6604 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Alexandra Martinez-Garcia covers Community Health and Policy and the Yale-New Haven Health System for the SciTech desk. Originally from Gales Ferry, CT, she is a sophomore in Silliman College majoring in Neuroscience.