As universities across the country show an increase in cases of the H1N1 virus, studies show students, who fall under the highest risk group for contracting the virus, are among the least likely to seek out the vaccination.
Reported cases of the swine flu have increased in college students over the past few weeks.
During the week ending Oct. 30, there were 9,128 new cases of swine flu at universities across the country that report to the American College Health Association, indicating a 2 percent increase in new cases from the previous week. At reporting universities in California, there were 394 new cases.
Despite this increase, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey shows that while nearly 70 percent of the population wants the H1N1 vaccine, in young adults the numbers drop to about 40 percent. A Washington Post-ABC news poll also found that nearly seven out of 10 people in the 18-to-29 age group said they did not plan to get vaccinated.
There are many different theories surrounding the reasons why students who fall under the CDC priority group do not see the importance of getting vaccinated. Health officials said an attitude of invincibility is one of the major factors for the low levels of college students getting the vaccine.
“I don’t really get sick very often and I’m a healthy guy,” said Scott Sternad, a junior majoring in civil engineering (building science), who was not planning to get the vaccine. “I feel like if I did get [the swine flu] I’d be able to fight it off.”
Others have also attributed past experience with the seasonal flu as reasons to forgo the new vaccine.
“I’ve never gotten a flu shot and I’ve never gotten the flu, so I don’t see a reason to get [the H1N1 vaccine],” said Serena Virani, a freshman majoring in psychology.
Such views could be problematic, according to Dr. Jeff Goad, director of student outreach for community health and an associate professor at the School of Pharmacy, since students are not major targets for the seasonal flu, which usually affects the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions.
College students are, however, among the highest risk group for contracting the H1N1 virus, because their immune systems have not been exposed to a similar strain of the virus that spread in the 1970s, according to Amanda Aldridge, a spokeswoman for the CDC.
But the problem is not simply in students’ attitudes. Some students who said they want to get vaccinated can’t do so because the vaccine is in short supply and students can end up waiting in line for hours for a shot.
“If there was an easy opportunity to get [the vaccine], I would,” said Scott Macklin, a junior majoring in astronautics and space technology.
According to Dr. Lawrence Neinstein, executive director of the University Park Health Center, the university received only enough doses to vaccinate 10 percent or less of the student body, which led to lines and long waits on days the vaccination was offered for free.
Neinstein added in an email, that the school has given about 800 doses to students so far.
Additionally, the media has also played a role in influencing students’ decision to get vaccinated. Aldridge said the media’s treatment of the disease was a possible reason students doubt the threat of the flu.
“The swine flu doesn’t seem like a serious issue,” said Ryan Madsen, a junior majoring in business administration.
Some students have also become wary of the vaccine after hearing stories about some people who have had severe negative reactions to the vaccine.
“I don’t feel comfortable putting [the vaccine] in my body,” said Chandler Rabens, a sophomore majoring in communication. “The shot hasn’t been out long enough to see the side effects.”
Health professionals are working to counter widespread false information regarding the safety of the vaccination, Neinstein added.
“In 10 million doses of the vaccine there has not been one serious complication,” Neinstein wrote.
Other officials added that the benefits of being protected outweighed the risk of getting sick, saying it is especially important to get the vaccine for better protection, since students live in close quarters.
“Getting vaccinated now can help [students] in the future,” Goad said. “This is likely to be the new flu and we will be living with it for years.”