Vaccinations are back in supply across the city and on campus, though students are generally unaware or uninterested in getting vaccinated.
After an increase in H1N1 flu reports, vaccines had been in short supply for nearly two weeks.
“One of the things that’s very different this time around than when we were preparing for the pandemic back in 2009 is that back then there wasn’t a vaccination for H1N1,” said Lynn Kuffner, manager of Student Health Services. “It was a new strain of virus and nobody was immunized against it.”
Kuffner said this year’s flu season was different from 2009.
“We wouldn’t call this recent outbreak a pandemic by any means. We do have increased instances of H1N1 though.”
It was this increase in H1N1 reports in late-December of 2013 that prompted a higher demand of vaccinations. Public Health offices in each health region requisitions a number of vaccinations for Saskatchewan based on demand from previous years, though this year there were not enough vaccinations to keep up with the demand.
“We were asked not to give it out except to pregnant mothers and babies. When Public Health issued that message, we were down to four or five doses,” Kuffner said.
Unfortunately, many students did not have the time to book an immunization appointment before the recent outbreak of H1N1. The flu shot has been available to students since the fall, though there hasn’t been much of an uptake.
“It wasn’t until after Christmas, when there were several confirmed cases of H1N1 and a lot of messages about it in the media, that we started to get a pickup,” Kuffner said. “There were 50 immunizations done in this clinic in one day just after that.”
Though students’ reasons for not getting vaccinated vary, many claim not to have the time.
“Last time I went to my clinic, there was a three-hour wait,” said Jeanine Thrasher, a drama student at the University of Saskatchewan. “I understand why you should get the flu shot, I just don’t have the time or patience.”
Other students decided against getting the vaccine this year because they were already sick with the flu when the shot was available, as was the case with fourth-year microbiology and immunology student Kirk Johns.
The vaccination program on campus is especially beneficial to students living in residence because of its convenience and proximity to campus. Offering the vaccine on campus saves students a trip to an off-campus clinic to get immunized.
Second-year psychology student Kristen Kurtenbach said she does not like needles and was unaware that alternative methods — such as an oral mist — are available.
The mist vaccine is a modified live flu virus, whereas the traditional injection vaccine is a dead, inactive virus. Both operate by allowing your body to build up the necessary antibodies to combat influenza, with the benefit that you will not get sick from the vaccine itself. People who have a weakened immune system cannot take the mist, which is preferable when doses are low in clinics.
Currently, Student Health Services only offers vaccinations to students. However, Kuffner has contacted administration inquiring whether there should be a public clinic on campus, with the worry that Student Health Services may be inundated due to demand for the vaccine.
“Young men in this age never think they’ll get sick, though during the 2009 pandemic they were the group that was most likely to get sick,” Kuffner said, adding that she is unsure if a lack of awareness is the reason why students don’t get vaccinated.
One argument for getting vaccinated is the social responsibility to keep others in the community from getting sick as well, said local business owner Peter Garden.
Garden said he believes that it is up to the community to get immunized, as it prevents high-risk groups — such as those who are immunocompromised — from contracting what is to them a more dangerous sickness than it is to others.
“I would say it is as much about protecting the community as it is about protecting oneself,” Garden said. “I run into people who are anti-vaccines and there are some good arguments… I just think those people aren’t taking into account the larger social question.”
This anti-vaccine idea is not new, though it is a growing issue. U of S Students’ Union Vice-President Student Affairs Nour Abouhamra said recent media coverage of anti-vaccine advocates is to blame for a decrease in vaccinations.
“Because of all the media attention on the risk factors of vaccines, some people prefer not to get vaccinated,” Abouhamra said. “For example, some people decide not to get their children immunized when they’re young. Now some diseases that we haven’t seen in a long time are reappearing because of this. So I think it’s very, very important to get vaccinated.”
Graphic: Stephanie Mah