“[Influenza is] a horrible, horrible illness and you can prevent it with a vaccine,” Director of Student Health Services Kristina Benkeser said. “The vaccine can give a little over 90 percent immunity.”
“Considering how contagious the flu is it’s definitely an intelligent decision to get vaccinated against because of the close quarters that you are in on campus,” Abby Bartus, senior public health major, 21, said.
Still, Benkeser has heard a number of excuses for not getting flu shots that she said just don’t make sense including a fear of needles, getting the flu, not ever getting sick and beliefs that vaccination can result in autism. She said that for the majority of people there is no reason not to get vaccinated.
“The flu vaccine is made from dead virus so it is literally impossible for you to get sick from the vaccine,” Benkeser said. “Actually it’s a very good sign if you run a low fever after a vaccine.”
What sometimes happens from a vaccine is a low-grade fever from stimulating the immune system. So what about a fear of needles?
“It’s okay, you can be scared of needles and still get a flu shot,” Benkeser said, encouraging students with a fear to bring a friend to help them through it.
She said that college campuses, day care centers and prisons are particularly bad locations for infections from the close contact and poor hand washing and that the new residence style suites have decreased influenza significantly at Slippery Rock University.
“Maybe you never got sick before but you’re in a different place. Just get the shot,” Benkeser said.
She also emphasized that getting vaccinated isn’t just important for an individual, but the population as a whole.
“If everybody has a good immune status, your probability of that disease finding a host is about zero so that’s good.”
This is a part of a concept called herd immunity, which states that if the majority of people are vaccinated that the disease cannot continue to spread.
Bartus also noted the importance of getting vaccinated for others.
“Think of when flu season hits. It’s right around the holidays. If you’re in contact with older grandparents or babies that don’t exactly have a developed immune system yet you’re really putting them at risk to a potentially fatal flu,” she said.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there have been concerns from individuals over the years that autism might be linked to vaccines, specifically from a drug called thimerosal.
“As a public health major one of the biggest frustrations is people that believe the Internet hype that vaccines are bad for you or cause autism when in reality [the study claiming there was a link] was completely debunked and there is no causation for autism from vaccines,” Bartus said.
“Evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association between thimerosal and autism,” the CDC website confirms.
“The whole mystery of why we’re seeing so much more autism or autism spectrum disorders is a puzzle, no body knows, I don’t know, but we do know that vaccines are not the problem so immunize,” Benkeser said. “We do know what kills children and that’s measles, mumps, rubella, polio, influenza and guess what, we have a way to prevent all of them.”
The health center will be offering free flu vaccines Sept. 18 in the quad. Students can also come to the Health Center anytime to get vaccinated for influenza, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Students can get other vaccines too upon request.
“If we don’t stock them, we can help our students get them at free or low costs,” Benkeser said.