Not too late to vaccinate

UNL Health Center is fully stocked with 2010/2011 flu vaccines, but takers are few.

Story and photos by Will Latta, NewsNetNebraska

Lindy Gushard has heard all the warnings about the flu. But she still wants no part of the vaccinations, offered for just $15, that officials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Health Center are urging all students to get.

“I don’t trust [the vaccines] actually,” said Gushard, a senior Elementary Ed major. “I received the vaccination once a few years ago, and got the flu shortly after. That’s actually the only time I’ve gotten the flu in the last several years. I’ve decided not to get vaccinations since then, and have stayed healthy.”

After the overblown worries over the H1N1 flu virus last year, lots of students feel the same way Gushard does. They are staying away from the flu shots at the health center in droves. But, officials warn, many may yet learn the hard way that the shots might be a smart idea. Flu seasons typically peak between January and February but can last as long as May, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

This year’s mild flu season amounts to a reversal of last year’s, when H1N1 hit campus unexpectedly early.

“At the end of the summer, one little gal had H1N1 diagnosed. We expected it to hit campus in December, but it started to spread out in August,” said Linda Rizijs, Director of Nursing at the UNL Health Center. “You don’t usually see the flu in September and October, those are nice months.”

Linda Rizijs, Director of Nursing at University Health Center discusses the flu season and vaccinations.

Health center officials did a brisk business in flu shots last year, but are finding fewer takers this time around.

“We usually do about 2500 (shots) and this year we went clear through December and there was no flu. In January there were a few cases, February there were a few more, but now it’s gonna be March, it’s like we got lucky this year,” said Rizijs.

Rizijs added that the vaccine available this season is a combination of the H1N1 strain and other variations of the virus. She worries that the seasonal flu could pose a bigger threat to students. “My impression after going through that last fall, it’s (H1N1) not as bad as the regular flu; it was a big surprise,” said Rizijs.

After the wild flu season of 2009 and the spring of 2010, health officials thought students would be lining up for vaccines this time around, but that hasn’t been the case. “Students don’t get the vaccine and I believe that is because they’re young, they’re gonna live forever, they’re not sick normally, and it just doesn’t occur to them that they really need it,” said Rizijs.

A survey conducted via Facebook by this reporter found that of the 24 students who participated, 22 did not get vaccinated this season.

Blood pressure gauge in a private room where a flu vaccination might be given at the UNL Health Center.

Students who avoid the vaccine know that the flu can make a mess of their studies, so why are they unwilling to dish out the $15 and roll up their sleeves for a vaccine? Many seem concerned about chatter regarding dangerous compounds within the vaccines. “There are a lot of rumors out there; there are also some good scientific studies that refute them,” said Rizijs.

This year’s flu season may be on the decline, but the CDC warns that flu outbreaks can be unpredictable and there is still plenty of time for the virus to ruin a couple weeks for many on campus. In the hothouse environment of campus students are surrounded by people, allowing germs to spread fast and relentlessly.

Still, skeptics such as Gushard argue that the vaccine won’t make them any safer. The senior said, “I know some people that still get the flu after receiving the vaccine; so in my opinion getting the vaccine is a little pointless.”

It may take a good stiff battle with a flu bug to change their minds. Health officials expect that some, at least, will face just such a fight.

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