The last flu vaccination. Those are ominous words at a time when the Center for Disease Prevention and Control has identified nearly every flu virus this year as the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus, or the swine flu.
Between Aug. 30 and Oct. 17, more than 20,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. with flu or pneumonia-related illnesses, conditions that led to almost 2,500 deaths in two weeks.
Figures like these tend to cause anxiety, especially for people forced to spend long periods of time around others who might be carrying the disease. Nervous parents, heavy media coverage and official White House statements are enough to create a panic on any campus, but before you trample little old ladies and small children in your race to the nearest clinic, pause for a moment.
College students are considered to run the least risk of complications once contracting the flu, said Michelle Drew, nurse practitioner at the ACU Medical Clinic. The CDC targets the young, pregnant women and health care workers first. Of course, this year is atypical in the number and severity of cases, but in general, students can avoid the flu without receiving a vaccination. Frequently washing your hands, getting adequate rest and avoiding others who are infected are reliable ways to lower your risk of illness.
This does not mean students should not be vaccinated if the opportunity arises, and here is the crux of the vaccination debate. Although the scientific community has determined vaccines to be safe, effective and often essential to the prevention of contagious diseases, a few prominent voices continue to muddy the waters. Actor Jim Carrey and political activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. are among several public figures who believe vaccinations do more harm than good, citing debunked studies that spuriously link vaccines with autism and diabetes.
It may be difficult for students to discern fact from fear, but there are some simple truths about the H1N1 vaccine. The National Institute of Health has been conducting tests of the vaccine since July, and it has been “well-tolerated,” acccording to Wired magazine.
Critics also point to the H1N1 outbreak in the 1970s, when several cases of a neurological disorder, Guillain-Barré, were linked to vaccinations. Since then, vaccination production has improved dramatically, and a 2003 study by the Institute of Medicine found no instances of the disorder caused by vaccines on the market today.
As with any health decision, students should exercise common sense. Weigh the consequences of not getting a vaccination – missing class or developing complications – against the inconvenience of walking to the clinic. Whatever your decision, just make sure it’s an educated one.