UHS Waits on Swine Flu Vaccine

Harvard University Health Services has ordered between 12,000 and 13,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, although the first shipment will be earmarked for high-risk groups and is not expected until October, said UHS director David S. Rosenthal ’59.

Of the vaccine ordered, 2,000 to 3,000 doses are specifically for groups including pregnant women, emergency medical services personnel, and people between the ages of 5 and 24 with chronic health conditions, according to Rosenthal.

UHS has a list of those people within the University who are high-risk and who will receive the H1N1 vaccine first.

The state has already begun production of the H1N1 vaccine, and, optimistically, UHS could receive “a lot” of the H1N1 vaccine ordered by the end of October, Rosenthal said.

Since the end of August, 120 people have gone to UHS with influenza-like illnesses, about 80 to 85 percent of whom are undergraduates, according to Rosenthal.

This number is much higher than the usual number of sick students in September.

“What we’re seeing in a day, we might be seeing in a week last year,” Rosenthal said.

Of the 120 cases since August, about 50 are currently active. These students are either in isolated rooms, at home, or in Stillman Infirmary.

“Everyone at Stillman has been phenomenal,” said Kevin W.H. Chi ’10, who has been in Stillman for five days with flu-like symptoms, including a 103 degree fever and a cough. “UHS tends to get a bad rap. I’ve been taken care of very well.”

Chi said he receives food from Harvard University Dining Services every day after he fills out his requests on a printed menu.

Stillman can accommodate up to 15 people if necessary, but it is not currently full. Sick students with single bedrooms can opt to return to their rooms in order to remain isolated, and undergraduates with family within two to three hours of campus can be sent to their family members.

UHS has also located 38 empty bedrooms throughout the House system in which to isolate students who cannot return home and do not have single bedrooms, in case Stillman becomes full. Fewer than five students have used these rooms so far. Rosenthal declined to detail the location of these rooms.

HUDS has arranged to deliver food to students who are being isolated in single bedrooms or in the empty bedrooms around campus.

Carly L. Dickson ’12 said she had a fever and went to UHS, where she was sent back to her double bedroom; her roommate slept in the common room. She said HUDS was supposed to deliver her food, but they never came.

The state no longer recommends testing to distinguish H1N1 flu from seasonal flu, so students who have flu symptoms—including a fever and cough—are simply told they have an influenza-like illness.

But Rosenthal said that most of the influenza-like illness cases are probably H1N1 flu, since seasonal flu usually presents itself later in the year.

This year’s large number of flu cases has increased the UHS clinic load, forcing UHS to bring in more clinicians and nurse practitioners on nights and weekends, Rosenthal said.

UHS has also been active in vaccinating people against the seasonal flu, and has given out 2,000 free doses so far.

—Staff writer Danielle J. Kolin can be reached at dkolin@fas.harvard.edu.