Flu fear rises amid shot shortage

Lindsay Shoff

In response to the national shortage of flu vaccines this year, the Student Health Center will not offer influenza shots to University students.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the British company responsible for supplying the United States with half of its influenza vaccinations notified the American government that the vaccines would not be available for distribution for the 2004-2005 flu season because of contamination. This reduced America’s available vaccines to about 55 million doses and caused the cancellation of the University’s program.

“We are most concerned about the students with chronic medical conditions and those who may be pregnant during flu season,” Rebecca Bramen, director of the Student Health Center, said.

Bramen has advised students in particular need, such as those on chronic aspirin therapy and those bearing children, to get the shot. “We are recommending that students who fall into the CDC’s priority groups contact their primary care providers or call their local Department of Health,” she noted.

Additionally, for those who contract the flu, certain antiviral drugs are available with a doctor’s prescription.

Every November the Health Center offers a $20 flu shot to students. On average, approximately 500 students take the offer. This year, however, students must look for other sources for now-elusive flu vaccine. Recently, federal health officials have reported that 2.8 million doses will be added to the national supply in January. These vaccines will come after the peak time when vulnerable people are supposed to have the shot administered – October and November. It takes at least two weeks after the vaccine is injected for people to become immune.

Influenza affects different locations at different times, and as of last week, Pennsylvania was one of seven U.S. states experiencing sporadic flu. December 2003 hit the University community particularly hard, and Bramen notes, “We are hoping not to see a repeat of last year.”

The flu is spread through coughing and sneezing or by hand contact with a flu-sufferer. Symptoms include fever, headache, cough, fatigue, runny nose, muscle aches and gastro-intestinal problems such as nausea and vomiting. Nationally, the flu is responsible for over 36,000 American deaths per year, and over 200,000 hospitalizations.

The Centers for Disease Control has the following recommendations for preventing the flu: stay at home when sick, cover mouth and nose, keep hands clean and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.

Cathy Lovecchio, director for the University’s Center of Health and Wellness Education, will be providing educational materials such as posters and table tents to increase influenza awareness on campus in the coming weeks of the beginning of the flu season.

University nursing students have been involved in providing vaccinations to vulnerable Philadelphia residents for over five years, and they will continue providing this outreach despite this year’s depleted vaccine.

“The city-wide program allows the students to observe and participate in a public health initiative that occurs at the community level, in churches, community and senior centers,” Assistant Professor Dr. Elizabeth Keech stated in a press release.

“This is a valuable experience for our students and at the same time we are also providing an essential service to community members.”