In a flu season that has seen the declaration of a public health emergency in Boston in response to an unsually large number of cases in the city, members of the Harvard community have clamored to get vaccinated against the virus.
Though Harvard has not yet seen an outbreak of the flu on campus, University Health Services has taken steps to keep students healthy this flu season.
At its most recent clinic on Jan. 15, UHS vaccinated 500 people. In total, UHS has vaccinated 13,000 people since the end of August, according to UHS spokesperson Lindsey Baker.
UHS held weekly vaccination clinics for most of the fall semester, and during winter break Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds sent students an email encouraging them to get vaccinated before returning to campus and noting that UHS had a “limited supply” of the vaccine.
UHS also plans to offer another vaccination clinic on Monday, Jan. 28. Although Baker confirmed that there will be a limited supply of vaccinations at the clinic, she did not specify the number of vaccines that would be available.
The limited supply of vaccine at Harvard has been felt by the greater Boston community as well. Shortages have been reported throughout the city since Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino declared a state of emergency on Jan. 9 in response to the 700 flu confirmed cases in the city since the start of October. In comparison, there were just 70 flu cases confirmed in the entire year of 2011.
Although this flu season has been especially intense and peaked earlier than usual in Boston, it may not necessarily be a so-called “outbreak,” according to Thomas J. Sandora, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Even so, Sandora emphasized the importance of getting the flu vaccine, in addition to taking other preventive measures such as hand-washing and staying away from others when sick—especially on a college campus where students live in close quarters and infectious diseases may spread more easily.
“The vaccine is the best thing we have to protect you against getting the flu,” Sandora said.
Joshua R. Wortzel ’13 received the vaccine at the UHS clinic on Jan. 15 after trying unsuccessfully to get vaccinated at CVS, which he had been told had exhausted its supply. Wortzel said he arrived at the UHS clinic a few minutes early, not anticipating a large crowd. By the time Wortzel arrived, however, the line—which started on the second floor of UHS in Holyoke Center—extended all the way to the front foyer on the ground level. By the time he had reached the second floor, he said he could see through the window that the queue had snaked out the building and around the block near the Garage.
“People were certainly pretty concerned about this,” Wortzel said. “They were willing to wait in a really long line.”
Wortzel said he was satisfied with his experience at the clinic. He noted, however, that some of the officials at UHS appeared to be surprised by the size of the turnout.
And some Harvard affiliates in line may not have even needed the vaccine. Wortzel said several students in line—himself included—got vaccinated that day even though were not sure whether or not they had already received the vaccine at a previous doctor’s visit.
—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at email@example.com.