Flu Epidemic Reaches Universities as Student Students Turn Down Vaccine

The latest report from Florida’s Department of Health shows that influenza has reached epidemic levels at FSU and FAMU. Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization, pneumonia or death for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and children younger than 5 years old. The flu vaccine is currently available and recommended for people in these groups. However, many students are turning down this opportunity because they worry about side effects or don’t believe in vaccines in general. Experts point to hesitancy when it comes to the flu vaccine as one of the reasons why we’re seeing such high rates of illness on college campuses during peak season.

During the last week in December, FSU’s health clinic administered its lowest number of vaccines to date since October. The total reports of new cases for the semester is at 902 and rising. Just a couple months ago during November, 775 people had received the vaccine while only 506 had received it by mid-December prior to the peak of influenza. In a statement from representatives of the Florida State University Student Health Services, they said, In light of our current status, we have been advising students to get their flu shots as soon as possible. The vaccine is still available and effective until the end of February.

When it comes to vaccines in general, there’s a difference between the flu vaccine and other vaccines. The reason for this is because of how it’s made. The flu shot contains killed viruses so there are no worries about any side effects or reactions, unlike with the MMR vaccine or others that have live components due to their potential for complications.

But still, many students on campus are skeptical about the flu shot and whether it’s something they want to take. John Ammann, a senior majoring in political science at FSU said that he thinks the flu vaccine is fine as long as it works. He also stated, If you’re going to get the vaccine there’s no reason not to use some kind of protection or preventative measure against the flu. I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal, but there are some people on campus who feel differently.

The vaccine is not without its concerns however. The biggest thing for concern with this year’s vaccination is the recent discovery of the mutated strain H3N2v in Minnesota. This particular mutation has been shown to cause more severe and prolonged illness than the other strains. Fortunately, this mutation is not present in Florida and it has been quickly identified as such.

Another concern regarding the influenza vaccine that many students have is its effectiveness. If you just look at some of the reports from around collegiate campuses, as well as those as a whole, there’s a big issue with the vaccine’s ability to prevent infection. The fact is that this year’s vaccine has been one of the least effective in years, but don’t let that discourage you from getting it anyway.

This can largely be attributed to something known as antigen drift. Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious disease specialist at FSU Student Health Services, explains that antigen drift is when slight changes are made to the virus every year in an effort to increase vaccine effectiveness. This year’s flu vaccine was not well-matched for this particular strain however due to unpredictable mutational drift.