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Winter 2021: What to expect with flu, COVID-19

Snow covers Taylor Courtyard on a winter day at IUPUI.

With the weather finally starting to feel like fall and the leaves changing colors, many are starting to wonder what the winter will bring. Of course questions about the weather abound, but thoughts also turn to what the winter will bring in terms of health and safety.

Like everything else in 2020, last year’s flu season was not typical, which makes it difficult for experts to predict what we’ll see this winter.

“Last winter, there were many more health and safety precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Scott Renshaw, medical director of IUPUI Campus Health. “Things like masking, limiting travel, working or going to school online, and physical distancing not only helped slow the spread of COVID-19 but also significantly cut down on the number of flu cases last year.”

A couple of things are driving the uncertainty associated with this year’s flu season. First, pandemic-related health and safety precautions have loosened in many areas, and people are returning to more typical activities. This means less masking and physical distancing, more traveling and groups of people gathering, which could lead to additional flu cases.

Second, there’s the possibility for this year’s flu season to be worse than usual given the low number of cases last year. In back-to-back normal flu seasons, the number of cases can be mitigated because of some lasting natural immunity from the previous year. Going into this year’s flu season, far fewer people will have had the flu last year and the associated natural immunity.

“It’s important every year to get a flu shot, but this year even more so,” said Dr. Beth Rupp, medical director of the Student Health Center at IU Bloomington. “The flu vaccine is key in helping to reduce the number of infections, reduce the severity of infections and keep people out of the hospital. This continues to be important as hospitals are still in the midst of caring for people with COVID-19.”

Experts believe this year’s flu vaccine will be as effective as the annual vaccine usually is. It is built as a quadrivalent vaccine, which means it protects against four strains of influenza.

And then there’s the X factor: COVID-19. Though the peak of the delta variant wave seems to have passed, the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to evolve and be unpredictable. It’s nearly impossible to know whether another variant will cause a spike in cases during the winter or whether the pandemic will reach a more steady state over the next few months.

“Even though we can’t predict what the virus will do, there are precautions we can take, especially as more activities move inside due to the weather,” Rupp said. “First and foremost, we can all get vaccinated against COVID-19. We can continue to mask, physical distance, wash our hands often, stay home if we’re sick and get tested if we have any symptoms of COVID-19.”

While the winter may be unpredictable, we can count on prevention measures to lower the risk of spreading both flu and COVID-19 over the next few months.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters

IU Bloomington Student Health Center Pharmacy

Limited appointments are available for first and second doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Moderna boosters are available for those who meet CDC guidelines on Nov. 5 and Nov. 12.

Appointments are required for all COVID-19 vaccines; schedule through the Student Health Center or call 812-855-7688.

IUPUI Campus Health

First and second doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are available for all. Pfizer boosters available for those who meet CDC guidelines.

They will be offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays in Coleman Hall. Appointments are required by calling 317-274-8214.

Around the state

COVID-19 vaccines are also available throughout Indiana. Browse locations at

Flu shots

IU Bloomington Student Health Center Pharmacy

Flu shots are available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; no appointment is needed.

Enter through door 2 or 3 and go to the pharmacy on the second floor.

IUPUI Campus Health

Flu shots are available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Campus Center TV lounge and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 9 in Campus Center Room 450.

Appointments are required.

Amanda Roach is a senior communications consultant in the Office of the Vice President for Communications and Marketing.