Dining Halls Aim to Stop Flu

With vaccine shortage, UHS will only immunize high-risk individuals

Students are still unlikely to have access to University Health Services’ (UHS) limited batch of flu vaccines this year after contamination at a plant that manufactures the vaccine caused a deficiency about two weeks ago.

According to Executive Director of Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) Ted A. Mayer, HUDS has been coordinating with UHS to help prevent the spread of the flu at mealtimes. In addition to using strict sanitation procedures which are already standard at HUDS—such as the use of sanitizer to wipe down all equipment, regular hand-washing by employees, high-temperature dishwashing machines and frequent changing of utensils—they will implement other preventive measures as flu season approaches.

Crista Martin, HUDS’ assistant director of marketing, said that some additional precautions are already beginning to take effect. HUDS will post signs reminding students to wash their hands, rotate available utensils every 20 minutes and supply hand sanitizer to students in every dining hall. Additionally, HUDS intends to continue collaborating with UHS as flu season progresses. “This is a cooperative effort,” said Mayer. “We don’t want people to get sick.”

As a result of contamination at a Liverpool, England plant, UHS has received only about 8,400 shots of the 14,000 it ordered.

In compliance with governmental regulations, UHS has been administering shots only to those who fall into the “high risk” category as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes pediatric patients, pregnant women, patients over the age of 65 and those with chronic and pulmonary diseases—a group that is highly unlikely to include students.

According to UHS Director David S. Rosenthal ’59, the vaccine may be made available to low-risk members of the Harvard community, such as the majority of students, if, and when, the State Department allows. As of last Friday, Rosenthal estimated that UHS has already vaccinated about 2,000 high risk patients.

While unable to provide thousands of students and Harvard employees with a vaccine, Rosenthal said that UHS has been advertising measures that students should take to prevent contracting the illness through its website, House bulletin boards and wellness representatives. These measures include using alcohol-based sanitizing gels and washing hands frequently. UHS will continue to keep students informed about the availability of vaccines through its website.

Some students are not concerned about contracting the illness. “The vaccine shortage doesn’t bother me,” said Michael B. Schnall-Levin ’05.

“It’s more important that people who need [the vaccine] get it,” said Laura H. Chirot ’08, who has been vaccinated only once.

Other students are upset about not getting flu shots, and some blame President Bush for the shortage.

“I think all citizens should be vaccinated,” said Daniel Ross-Rieder ’08. “The shortage tells me that, in a time of war against terror when al Qaeda could attack us, the [Bush] administration is not that serious about Homeland Security.”

Presidential candidate John F. Kerry has also used the vaccine shortage to criticize the Bush administration during several campaign speeches.

Dr. Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard’s School of Public Health, noted that the issue may influence the votes of senior citizens, but that it is too early to tell.

“If it keeps looking like it’s a problem, and if people keep seeing pictures of seniors waiting in line to get shots on TV, then it could play out,” he said.

Blendon said that about 22 percent of voters are age 60 and over and that the impact of the shortage could be especially significant in swing states such as Florida that have large populations of senior citizens.