by Natalie Honan
According to NPR, one in four college students will contract the flu virus every year. Despite this statistic, an overwhelming majority of college students will not get a flu shot.
Pitzer students gave mixed reviews of the flu vaccine; some receive the shot yearly while others avoid the vaccine completely. A few students reported that they physically cannot receive the vaccine due to proneness to autoimmune diseases or immunosuppression. Other students found that the flu shot reduced complications and symptoms of preexisting conditions, like asthma.
A common reason to refuse the flu vaccine was “I never get the flu, so I don’t need the shot.” Conversely, whether or not you’ve had the flu, you are still just as susceptible to the virus. It is estimated that six to seven percent of adults and 20 percent of children will contract the influenza virus every year.
Other students may opt out of a flu vaccine due to phobia of needles or pain, inconvenience, or because they simply don’t want to.
Certain groups of people believe vaccines do more harm than good—causing disability, disease, or even death. There are groups of people who identify as “anti-vaccination,” particularly in more affluent Southern California neighborhoods. These individuals may refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children due to beliefs that vaccinations contain toxins, cause disease, or that they will build up natural immunity without the help of medicine.
Due to these practices, this year alone, there have been 22 recorded cases of measles in Orange County and 10 in Los Angeles County, the highest since the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was introduced in 1963. According to the World Health Organization, “measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.” While California has a normal rate of immunization refusals (measured by the amount of people who receive “Personal Belief Exemptions”) relative to the rest of the country, there are small communities with highly concentrated populations of people who willingly do not receive immunizations. These communities are most common in areas including Marin County, Malibu, and Santa Cruz and the schools affected have been private institutions, for the most part.
Contrary to the notions of anti-vaccination campaigns, it can be extremely beneficial to a community’s health for people to receive basic immunizations because of a phenomenon called “herd immunity.” This principle states that when the majority of a community is vaccinated against a certain disease, there is very low probability that an outbreak will occur. Therefore, pregnant women, infants, immunocompromised individuals, and people who physically cannot receive a vaccination, are also protected from a potential outbreak. For this reason, when an individual refuses to get vaccinated, they are posing a threat to the security of herd immunity and therefore, the health of others.
Here in Claremont, we are fortunate that vaccines and other preventative care measures are fairly easy to access. On a similar note (yet much smaller scale) I encourage you to consider an influenza vaccine to protect yourself and your friends this flu season. With close living quarters, shared personal items, and frequent physical contact, the college atmosphere is perfect for the rapid spread of viruses. Flu vaccines are available at the Tranquada Student Health Center for a reasonably inexpensive price. One small pinch can save you weeks of misery.
Aguilera, Elizabeth. “Measles Cases Have Health Officials Worried about Vaccine Refusers.” 89.3 KPCC. Southern California Public Radio, Feb. 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.
“Community Immunity (“Herd Immunity”).” Vaccines.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 06 Nov. 2014.
Donovan, Patricia. “University at Buffalo – The State University of New York.” Most College Students Ignore Flu Vaccine. UB Reporter, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.
Knox, Richard. “Flu On Campus: Avoiding Misery For $20.” National Public Radio Health. National Public Radio, Dec. 2008. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.
“Measles.” Measles. California State Department of Public Health, 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.
“Measles.” WHO Media Centre. World Health Organization, Feb. 2014. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.