February 20, 2009

Few, But Rising Number of Students Take Free Flu Shots

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Each year from the beginning of November through the end of April, millions of Americans are stricken by the influenza virus. According to the website of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “On average 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu; more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from flu.” While a flu shot does not guarantee total protection from this scourge of the winter season, the CDC notes that the injection is up to 90 percent effective in warding off influenza in healthy people under age 65.
In an effort to decrease the number of Cornell students and faculty contracting the virus, Gannet Health Center has been offering free flu shots from Oct. 1 until April 1 for the past two years. [img_assist|nid=35395|title=Percentage of Cornell Students Getting Flu Shots|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Nianne Van Fleet, associate director of health services at Gannet, said, “Students should get the vaccine. Not just because the school is giving it for free, but with the flu you are sick for five to 10 days. You cannot miss five to 10 days at Cornell. It’s a preventative measure to protect yourself and the people around you.”
Despite the fact that the flu shots are free, Van Fleet said only 28 percent of the student body has chosen to take advantage of this opportunity since Gannet began administering them in October. While the number of students getting vaccinated increased 6 percent from last year, Gannet would still like to see a majority of students vaccinated.
“We hope over the next three years we can get a critical mass of students to take the flu shot because if you have enough people taking the shot, this leads to herd immunity which hampers the spreading of the disease around the campus,” Van Fleet explained.
Hoping to attract more students, the Health Center offered FluMist, a nasal spray alternative to the shot. FluMist is the first nasal spray vaccine to be marketed in the United States. While it was made available in September of 2003, this is the first year that Cornell has offered the new vaccine, targeting those who have needle phobias.
“Early on we had to encourage people to take the mist, but by this semester more have gotten it. We recommend the mist because it’s easy, quick and more effective,” Van Fleet said. But regardless of these increased efforts, Gannet was still disappointed by the low percentage of students who took advantage of either the shot or the spray.
Even with all the incentives to get the shot, students still had a variety of reasons for not getting immunized.
Jon Tesfaye 09’ said, “I feel that up here in Ithaca, the students are very engaging with one another. You’re bound to get sick one way or the other. So if you are not going to get sick from the flu, it’ll be something else,” said Jon Tesfaye ’09.
Additionally, many students, such as Caitlin McCulloh ’10, elected not to get a flu shot simply “because I had never gotten one before.”
Dan Froates ’12, said, “I have never received the flu shot. I received the emails, but did not think to get one.”
Even though the vast majority of Cornell students did not receive a flu shot, the number of infected students with influenza has remained relatively low.
“We are seeing very little flu at Cornell right now, whereas in the state there is a real threat of influenza,” Van Fleet said, attributing the decreased outbreak of the flu on campus to the slowly increasing number of students who get the vaccine.