Temple received a limited supply of 1,900 free swine flu vaccines and distributed them last week to “high priority” groups, including pregnant students and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Before the nurse administered his H1N1 vaccination, Chris had to think for a moment which arm might experience less pain before he finally decided his left arm would receive the shot.
Chris, who declined to give his last name, is one of many students on Main Campus who have received free vaccinations against the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu.
The first round of free limited vaccines was distributed at the Student Center Nov. 10 to students who were considered to be in a “high priority” group.
Associate Director of Student Health Services Mark Denys classified “high priority” as pregnant women, those who work with patients at the Health Sciences Campus, students with chronic conditions like asthma or transplants and those who are primary caregivers to children 6 months of age or younger.
Denys said Student Heath Services would continue administering vaccinations through this week based on the number of available flu shots and students’ need. The Philadelphia Department of Health distributed 1,900 free vaccines to Temple and more to other universities and schools in Philadelphia.
“We’re going to reassess how many students came, how much vaccine we have left [and] how many more students have filled out the questionnaire,” he said.
Chris was one of many who filled out the questionnaire sent by the Health Services to all students several weeks ago in a mass e-mail.
Chris, an elementary education major who works for the Philadelphia School District in two different classrooms throughout the week as part of his course program, said he had many reasons to apply for the free flu shot. At the end of the day, he also returns home to 17-month-old son and a pregnant wife.
“My likelihood of being either exposed to, or potentially transmitting it to someone else if I were to contract it, made it [requirement for flu shot],” he said. “So I came in, and it was free and convenient. It took all of 90 seconds.”
Since the start of the swine flu pandemic in April 2009, it has spread to all the states and affected almost every country in the world, killing 6,250 people. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports 1,152 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Philadelphia County alone, resulting in eight deaths.
As of Nov. 4, Student Health Services reported that 55 students from the university have described influenza-like illnesses. Although there have been no cases of deaths due to influenza, SHS confirmed one case of H1N1 in a student living off campus.
“The doctor who saw the student said that they were recovering fine. They [lived] off campus [and went] home to recover for a few days and went back to classes,” Denys said.
Kelsey Schwarzenbach, a senior education major, said she has been sick for the past two weeks with symptoms of high fever, stuffy nose, headaches and sometimes a bit of nausea.
She went to Student Health Services for help but said she was told to take Tylenol to alleviate her symptoms after waiting in a long line to speak with a healthcare professional.
“I think it’s just really difficult the way the whole thing is set up because they have doctors there for certain times, and you can’t be there to wait for an hour and a half in line,” she said.
When she turns 23 next week, Schwarzenbach will automatically be removed from her parents’ health insurance plan. She said she is now looking at independent plans, so when it comes to times like these, she can be prepared for immediate treatment.
While experts debate whether H1N1 is more severe than other, regular seasonal flus, others say it may be the only flu to cause greater problems because flu shots for it are limited.
“Every once in a while you’ll get a new strain, which is good at infecting people and spreads easily from person to person. Anytime you have a strain like this, there’s going to be a lot of susceptible people, pretty much almost everybody,” said Dr. Peter Axelrod, associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology and chair of Infection Control Committee of Temple University Hospital.
“If I had the choice today to get either shot and [could receive] only one of them, I would do the H1N1 because it’s the only thing around,” he said.
Axelrod said even though hand-washing is a good preventative measure, the current influenza is mostly airborne. He advises sick students who commute to stay at home and those who live in residence halls to avoid contact with others.
Chris and his family members already received seasonal flu shots, but he wants his wife and son to be vaccinated against H1N1 as well. His wife is expected to deliver another boy late February.
“Coming down with an illness and potentially losing my born son or my unborn son and with my wife’s compromised immunities, I thought why not [get vaccinated],” he said.
He also has another responsibility – picking up his son from day care while his wife is at work. “I’m exposed to tons of runny noses and everything,” he said. “So I figured better safe than sorry.”
Sergei Blair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.