Jamie Nixon, Guest Writer
I’ve decided to try something different this year in my attempts to persuade you on the benefits of the seasonal flu vaccine. Each year, I encounter students who are entrenched in their beliefs against the vaccine. The varied arguments include the perennial “I never get sick, therefore I don’t need to get the vaccine,” along with the naïve, “I got the vaccine last year, so I don’t need it this year.” There’s my ever-favorite conspiracy theory about pharmaceutical companies that breaks down quick to a few holes poked in that argument. I also hear students who just admit that they hate shots and would prefer to take their chances with the illness itself, (which I usually describe as needless suffering). Some have reported that the flu shot “made them sick” and therefore they will never get the shot again. When asked to explain what their symptoms were following from getting the vaccine, I rarely hear the actual flu-symptoms: severe chills, fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, headaches, fatigue, weakness (lasting up to two weeks), cough, chest discomfort. There can be local adverse reactions with pain at injection site being the most commonly reported along with less than one-fifth of patients reporting short term systemic complaints of muscle aches, headache and fatigue. Again, that is not the flu. This can be a response to vaccination as your immune system mounts a defense against the antigens presented.
This year, Saint Martin’s is celebrating a Year of Service. There are many ways to look at service, and I doubt your first thought is by getting your flu vaccine. More likely you will see service opportunities done with our amazing Crystal Cardona, the new Coordinator of Service and Justice. Please still volunteer with her AND get your flu vaccine (which protects those people you serve who may not have the means to vaccinate themselves).
I will hear some of you argue that the vaccine last year (and unfortunately some other years) was not a good match to the circulating strains. The projections are tough and are made even more difficult by the superiority of the brilliant and frequently changing virus we are trying to fight. I can tell you first hand that my patients who did get the vaccine and were unlucky enough to get the flu that their illness course was milder and shorter than those who did not get the vaccine. I think having a helpful visual of the board game “Pandemic,” or the dice version “Pandemic the Cure,” can help if you are not familiar with how rapidly viruses spread. I am happy to host a board game night in the TUB if any students want to play. Just ask Katie Wieliczkiewicz, Director of Campus Life, or Elizabeth Rumball, Assistant Director of Campus Life, first to make sure there are not fun events planned for the same time!
I can’t stress enough how important the vaccine is to protecting those vulnerable in the community. If any of you have anyone in your immediate or extended family under age of six months, please get your flu shot. They are too young to get the vaccine so by removing yourself as someone who could carry and spread the virus you are helping protect them. This also applies if you have anyone in your immediate circle who is over age 65, immunocompromised in any way or dealing with long term chronic medical conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or diabetes (their immune systems are not as great at developing the necessary antibodies to the antigens present in the vaccine). If you live in the residence halls I know Justin, Janie, Heather Nicole or Sarah will want as many of you vaccinated as possible (especially as it will help protect them and their families). If you are an athlete, you will be protecting your team, coaches, trainers and you will not impact your athletic performance or team’s season from a two-week illness.
I would like to say that the flu virus does not discriminate based on class, race, ethnicity, etc., but unfortunately that is not true. The virus will disproportionately impact those with limited access to healthcare, or whom the healthcare system has systemically discriminated against. If you are interested in learning more about the issue of healthcare disparity, please connect with the incomparable John Hopkins, Ph.D, at the Diversity and Equity Center in Harned Hall.
Every other year our office and the Counseling and Wellness Center send out a survey to all students that assesses multiple impacts to your health. Without fail one of the greatest impacts to your academic success (as reported by you or your peers) is illness. I guarantee your professors do not want you sick in their classrooms coughing on your desks and infecting your classmates. One way to prevent that, and as a service to your professors, is to get vaccinated. It’s free for all of you undergraduates through our office in Burton Hall, Room 102 (hours are Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Or use your insurance and have it done at your grocery store or pharmacy (Target usually has a $5 off shopping coupon if you get your flu vaccine from their pharmacy).
The decision to vaccinate or not is ultimately up to you, though I beg that you use the valuable skills of critical thinking learned here at Saint Martin’s University to review the overwhelming data in support of the benefits of seasonal influenza vaccination. I know those I most need to persuade likely did not read to the end of this article. At the American College Health Association Annual Conference this year we had a guest speaker from the Center for Disease Control who was giving a talk on the greatest health threats to the college age group. Influenza and resulting complications of pneumonia or bronchitis were responsible for 0.6 percent of deaths in the 15 to 24 age group—184 deaths in a year.
Please consider this as another way to serve, something that seems so simple can have such a dramatic impact on our world. This will keep our entire community safer, (which our Public Safety team will also appreciate).