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As the nation braces for what health experts predict will be a particularly severe influenza season, University Health Services (UHS) has bulked up its resources in an effort to provide as many students as possible with flu shots.
UHS ordered 13,000 flu shots this year as part of its vaccination program for the University and will offer high risk individuals free vaccines today in the Holyoke Center from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., UHS Director David S. Rosenthal ’59 said.
“We are worried it will become a bad year,” said Ricki Lacy, the director of public health nursing services at the Cambridge Public Health Department. “We are beginning to see earlier activity than we have in past years.”
Rosenthal said that hospital workers, individuals with chronic diseases, the elderly and students living in dormitories all qualify as high risk and will be able to receive the inoculation.
“We strongly urge our undergraduate and housing graduate students to be vaccinated,” he said.
According to the Associated Press, at least 11 young children and an 18-year-old student at Worcester State College have already died from influenza, although Rosenthal cautioned that other medical conditions might have caused the deaths.
“Most of the people who die from the flu usually have secondary or chronic disorders,” he said, adding that the elderly are especially vulnerable as well.
Complications of influenza, including pneumonia, also can be fatal, Rosenthal said.
Fears spurred by the flu outbreaks have led to an increase in demand for the vaccination.
“The good news is that a lot of high risk individuals have already received the vaccine,” Lacy said.
The city of Cambridge exhausted its supply of vaccinations in mid-November and UHS stepped in to donate 400 doses that will be distributed to those considered to be at risk.
Yet, experts said they are concerned that the flu shots will not be as effective as in past years. The vaccination only provides immunity against three strains of the flu virus, and the strain emerging this season is not one of them.
“We are worried that the vaccine we are using is not an exact match for the virus in the community,” Lacy said.
This shouldn’t stop students and those at risk from getting vaccinated, however, Rosenthal said.
“There is always crossover immunity from some of the other strains,” he explained.
The three forms of the virus contained in the flu shot will still offer some protection, although it is unclear how much, Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal also advised frequent hand washing with either soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel to provide a measure of protection during a possibly severe flu season.
Edna R. Choi ’07 said getting a flu shot will only help—it can’t hurt.
“It doesn’t hurt to get a flu shot,” she said, “and if it’s the wrong strain, then oh well.”
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