Health center's flu vaccine faces student apathy
October 11, 2008 12:45 PM
Campus health center officials are gearing up for flu season by urging students to get vaccinated. However, past flu vaccinations have met with varying levels of success, campus health officials said, and several students express skepticism over the vaccine’s effectiveness.
SF State freshman and theater arts major Jazmin Pena said she doesn’t plan on getting the shot because she is “iffy” about vaccinations. Pena said she doesn’t worry about getting hit with the flu.
“I normally don’t get sick,” she said. “The most I get is a sore throat.”
E-mail notifications regarding the vaccinations were sent out to all high-risk students at the beginning of October, Director of Student Health Services Alastair Smith said. High-risk students, who receive the vaccine for free, include those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease.
According to Smith, the campus health center started out with around 300 doses of the flu vaccine for this flu season.
The shots will be available at the health center for all students in a couple of weeks, Smith said, with priority going to all SHS staff and faculty members.
“Whatever doses are left are given to students,” said Carol Brewer, SHS administrative assistant.
Brewer said that this year’s vaccine is $20. The vaccine is currently available during immunization clinic hours on Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and on Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:15 p.m.
“[Last year] around 120 students came here [to the health center] to get vaccinated in fall ‘07 and around 48 students came in that were considered high risk and received free vaccinations,” said Ingrid Ochoa, SHS health educator.
Smith said that many more shots go out to staff and faculty and that there is “very little interest from the students.”
“I have a really strong immune system so I rarely get sick,” said Michelle Sea, a biology major at SF State.
Smith acknowledged that a lot of students are skeptical.
Many students got the flu vaccine and think they still got the flu, he said, but they actually are getting the common cold. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,“it takes up to two weeks for protection to develop after the shot.”
However, Smith admitted that in some of the past years people do get the flu even after they got the shot.
“Last year’s [flu vaccine] was not a great vaccine,” he said.
Smith said the problem stems from the fact that they grow the vaccine virus in eggs. This process is very old and takes several months to produce, so there is no time to change the vaccine once it is made, Smith said.
Because the vaccine is grown in eggs, the CDC advises people with an egg allergy to not to get the vaccine.
“The flu morphs all the time,” Smith said. The influenza virus which is made of two main types, Types A and B, changes as a result of antigenic “drift” or small changes in the virus and antigenic “shift,” or abrupt changes in influenza A Virus.
According to the CDC, “the flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season.”
In addition, the CDC notes, “the effectiveness of the vaccine can vary and depends in part on the match between the viruses in the vaccine and flu viruses that are circulating in the community.
“They make this cocktail,” Ochoa said. “It’s not 100 percent effective. It really depends on how well it matches.”
The director said the most important step to fight the flu is to get a flu vaccine and secondly to wash your hands with soap and water or Purell hand sanitizer.
The CDC recommends getting the vaccine in October or November. The peak time for influenza is in January or February.
Ochoa said she highly recommends getting vaccinated this flu season to decrease the possibility of getting sick. “It’s your choice,” she said. “But if you get vaccinated you will be protected. I would rather be protected 50-60 percent than 0 percent.”
Smith says the flu is transmitted by air, being in another’s cough zone or by shaking hands with someone.
Smith said that at a college, people from all over are confined in one space. “Colleges are an ideal place to transmit disease,” he said.
If one student goes out and gets sick and comes back to the dorms — where everyone is in a crowded area — the flu will be easily transmitted, he said.
“If 90 percent of people are vaccinated it’s difficult for disease to spread,” Smith said.
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