H1N1 Vaccine Received; Free Clinic Tuesday

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The College will offer H1N1 vaccination clinic Tuesday the 24th from 9am to 6pm in Bond Hall that is free and open to students only. Director of Student Health Services Beth Kotarski said that there are 1000 doses of the vaccine available, which “should be plenty” for this first round. Another 500 doses will be coming from the state eventually; further clinics will be held after Thanksgiving, including ones open to faculty and staff.

The first few cases of H1N1 appeared on campus shortly before fall break; cases surged after break, which Kotarski said was no coincidence. It “usually happens” that illnesses increase after a break, both because of traveling and because of contact with different groups of people. Break also happened to fall just after the high point of Pennsylvania infections.

Around 16% of campus visited or called Worth for influenza-like illnesses; Kotarski said that the majority of those cases were probably H1N1, as “there is virtually no seasonal flu documented in Pennsylvania right now.” Kotarski had also “heard of students” who got sick and did not get in touch with Worth, noting that “most of them didn’t need to be seen by a healthcare provider.” There were also a few more serious cases of flu that required hospital visits, but Kotarski said Swarthmore “got lucky this round” in not experiencing any of the “more aggressive” flu.

Students experiencing active symptoms were asked to stay in their rooms, and to have a friend bring meals from Sharples through a meal ticket program. Kotarski said that a few students had problems with this. If the “flu buddy’s” schedule happened to not be conducive to bringing meals, especially for those who live off-campus; those ill students were welcome to stay in the Health Center. Most sick students, however, were fine in their rooms.

Incidents have been decreasing for the past two weeks, “mirroring [the pattern in] the state.” There are now very few cases of flu on campus. With Thanksgiving approaching, however, Kotarski said that she expected some students would “get sick again…we’ll probably see another little bit of flu” next week. She said she was “really glad” that the College got the vaccine before Thanksgiving, so that this effect would hopefully be less prevalent.

Kotarski also said that it “is not a guess” that there will be other “little surges” of H1N1 on campus for the next several months: “That’s a very strong, strong warning from the CDC.”

Vaccination will help protect against these resurgences. The CDC is recommending that even those who think they have already have H1N1 get the vaccine; “it can’t hurt,” said Kotarski, “and if they weren’t tested to verify that it actually was H1N1 before, well, it might not have been.”

For those students who are positive that they did have H1N1, Kotarski said that “the CDC is saying…there is still benefit in getting the vaccine,” although “the thought behind it might not be as logical.”

After several weeks of “calling the state every day” about the vaccine, Kotarski said that the College finally received 1000 of the requested 1500 doses Friday. The vaccination will be free under a government grant; even the needles were provided. “I’ve never seen [such a thorough program] in my lifetime,” she commented.

Priority for the vaccine is given to people under the age of 24 and students who have a complicating factor — lung conditions including asthma, immune system problems, or other chronic conditions — are especially encouraged to get the vaccine. Kotarski said that if the first batch of vaccine had been smaller, it would have gone to those students first, but the current 1000 doses should suffice for the students interested in receiving the vaccine.

A recent CNN poll showed that as many as 55% percent of adult Americans “don’t want to get the H1N1 flu vaccine,” about half of them citing the possibility of side effects as the reason. (That article quotes the National Institute of Health as having “seen no serious side effects” for the vaccine; Kotarski echoed that sentiment. The College’s vaccine “is not live virus.”)

In a brief unscientific poll, the Gazette found that most students asked had not been planning to be vaccinated today. The majority of those polled were unaware of the clinic, despite an email that went to all students last Friday. After being told about it, many said that they might go, although several expressed a general lack of concern about getting the flu. Some said that they thought they had had it already, this semester or in the spring, so they were “immune”; as one student put it, “if I were going to get it, I would have had it already.”

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