Citing common skepticism of flu vaccine effectiveness, previous bad experiences with flu shots or a basic fear of needles, many students say they are reluctant to get either the seasonal flu or H1N1 vaccines despite urging from the CSU Health Network that they get both.
“Both vaccines are very much for different strains,” said Kathy Waller, a Hartshorn Health Services physician. “We are definitely encouraging people to get both shots, either separately or at the same time.”
Senior finance major Sam Fraley said he has done fine without the flu shot in previous years and that he probably wouldn’t be getting the seasonal flu shot this year.
“I think the flu shot works,” Fraley said. “But if you’re at the prime of your life, I don’t think it makes that big a difference.” He said he thinks children and older people should definitely get the vaccinations.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control, people between the ages of six months and 24 years are most susceptible to H1N1, people caring for newborns 6 months old and younger, as well as pregnant women and people up to 65 with life-long illnesses including respiratory conditions, deficient immune systems and cancer.
The seasonal flu hospitalizes about 200,000 people in the United States and kills about 36,000 each year, according to the CDC.
Fraley said he will “highly consider” getting the H1N1 shot but said many people will be cautious with the H1N1 vaccination because it is so new.
News reports across the country illustrate that many people share that sentiment and point to the 1976 swine flu vaccine, which led to the nerve damaging Guillane-Bar, as reason to avoid the new vaccine. Today’s H1N1 vaccine, however, has no relationship to the one of three decades ago and is manufactured the same way as the seasonal vaccine.
Waller said that a lot of the skepticism behind both flu shots this year is due to common myths that are simply untrue.
“We always hear ‘I got sick from the flu shot.’ That it impossible,” she said, noting that the vaccine uses a filled flu virus that cannot give patients the flu. Only inactive particles make up the vaccine.
Chris DeLorn, a senior criminal justice major who doesn’t plan on getting either vaccine due to “bad experiences with shots before,” suggested that many students are reluctant because of a fear of needles.
“Some people also just want to get it over with and just get sick,” DeLorn said, who also said he got the seasonal flu shot and still caught the flu.
It is important for people to know that the influenza shot only protects from certain strains of flu, Waller said, so it is still possible to get a strain of flu that is not protected against in the vaccine.
The World Health Organization predicts which strains will be most active based on Southern Hemisphere flu patterns, so some years the vaccine is not as effective, she said, but the WHO is usually “pretty good about it.”
And for people who are afraid of needles, Waller said the vaccine is also available in flu mist: a nasal spray vaccine, which uses a weakened, active virus and should only be administered to healthy individuals between 2 and 49 who are not pregnant.
Freshman civil engineering major Jesse Struble also said he wasn’t planning on getting either vaccination, even though he has had his seasonal flu shot in previous flu seasons and has never had any negative experiences.
“I don’t find much difference in either of the flus,” Struble said. “I’ll do everything I can to avoid getting it by washing my hands often, but (H1N1) doesn’t seem that different from the normal flu.”
Still, some students, including sophomore history and biology double major Emmie Miller, said they will heed the Health Network’s recommendation to get both shots.
“I’m hoping to get the seasonal flu shot within the next week,” Miller said. “I’m not worried about it; I’ve gotten it since I was little.”
Miller’s friend Robin Scudelari, a sophomore zoology major, said she got sick with H1N1 during the first week of classes and cautioned Miller against getting the H1N1 shot due to what she’d heard about the potential side-effects of the virus including nervous system complications.
Miller said she is still planning on getting the H1N1 vaccination when it becomes available later this month.
Hartshorn Health Center ran out of its seasonal flu vaccine earlier this week, Waller said, but is expecting to receive more soon.
“It has gone faster this year because of more flu awareness,” Waller said. “Don’t anticipate a national shortage.”
Still, Waller said students can and are encouraged get their flu shot at a variety of drug stores around Fort Collins in the mean time for $25 — just $5 more than the price offered at Hartshorn.