State Expands Flu Vaccinations

Guidelines extended, but most college students still won’t be eligible for vaccine

The state eased restrictions on flu vaccine distribution last week, but don’t expect to get University Health Services (UHS) to vaccinate you anytime soon.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Christine C. Ferguson announced last week that the flu vaccine guidelines would be expanded immediately to include people 65 years of age and older and other high-risk patients not included in the previous restriction.

In accordance with a national shortage of flu vaccines this fall, Massachusetts restricted the vaccine to patients 75 years old and above and high-risk patients, including those suffering from diseases like cystic fibrosis, kidney disease and chronic lung problems.

The new guidelines will also allow hospitals and health clinics to vaccinate all children aged six to 23 months, parents of children six months and younger, persons two to 64 years with any underlying chronic medical conditions, all women who will be pregnant during influenza season, and all residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Even though most college students are still not eligible, UHS has already started vaccinating under the state’s expanded guidelines.

“We had to stop immunizing some of our people between 65 and 75…now we [have] reopened that [service] and people are being immunized,” said UHS director David S. Rosenthal ’59.

Despite the shortage of flu vaccines, UHS has not seen an increase in the number of flu cases as of yet.

“So far, its been a quiet flu season,” said Rosenthal. “We have had a number of patients with typical cold symptoms…but no overall increase in flu patients,” he added.

But Rosenthal cautioned that it is still early in the flu season. The flu season does not generally peak until January or February, when Cambridge temperatures hit rock bottom.

According to Ferguson, the majority of individuals deemed most at risk for serious complications from the flu have already been vaccinated.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has distributed more than 665,000 doses of state-purchased flu vaccine to Massachusetts residents and plans to purchase an additional 35,330 flu shots.

Ferguson said the department will continue to monitor the flu vaccine supply and will revise the guidelines if appropriate.

Rosenthal does not expect flu guidelines to be revised this year to include students.

In October, UHS sold 2,000 units of the flu vaccine to the Boston Public Health Commission to help alleviate the city’s shortage.

He does not expect the city to return the 2,000 units of vaccine.

Rosenthal added that students have been very understanding toward UHS about the flu vaccine shortage.

“Students understand the issue. They know they are not being refused the flu vaccine and understand…that there has been a lack of supply,” he said.