The 2015-16 flu vaccine has arrived at the University of Saskatchewan and the health services community on campus is urging students to get the shot in order to stay healthy while also ensuring those around them reap similar benefits.
Since 2010, the seasonal influenza vaccine has been free for every resident of Saskatchewan. 2015, though, is the first year in the history of the U of S that the shot has been available at the campus pharmacy, the Medicine Shoppe. This availability is part of a larger campus-wide drive to get students vaccinated.
Amber Ly, pharmacist and manager of the Medicine Shoppe, believes strongly in the importance of the flu shot and hopes the convenient location will boost participation.
“Everyone should be getting the flu shot unless you have some contraindication where you can’t. Almost everyone in the population over six months of age not only can get the flu shot, but we want to encourage them to get the flu shot,” Ly said.
With exam season and the inevitable Saskatchewan winter approaching, students need to be paying extra attention to their health. Still, according to Ly, many students don’t take advantage of the flu shot. Common reasons that students opt out of the shot include that they have already had the flu and are therefore immune or that the shot gave them the flu last time they got one. In fact, Ly explained, these are myths.
“Some people make the mistake that they think they’ve had the flu but it wasn’t, it could be a cold or something else. Or if they did, it’s one particular strain that they likely got; they could still get protection from the other strains if they get their shot,” Ly said. “And the virus we’re using is dead. You absolutely cannot get the flu from it.”
What the dead virus actually does is fire up the patient’s immune response to begin building antibodies. Some people experience mild flu-like systems in conjunction with this, which is where the myth comes from. These symptoms pass within a few days.
The benefits to getting the shot are far more numerous and not just for personal health. According to Ly, a vaccinated population is vital to the protection of some of the more susceptible members of society — the elderly, the young and those with weakened immune systems.
Flus can be extremely dangerous for these demographics and they made up the majority of the on-average 350 annual influenza deaths over the past four years in Canada.
“The more of the population that we can get immunized, the more we can protect [these demographics],” Ly said.
The standard flu shot contains three dead strains of the influenza virus that epidemiologists predict will be the most likely to hit hard in a given year.
Nurse Heather Brempel of the U of S Student Health Centre warns that these strains are nasty and they will knock students off their feet for at least a full week if they catch one.
“They will have fever, chills, their skin will hurt. They won’t be able to lift their head off the pillow,” Brempel said.
According to Brempel, the time left to get the shot before the flu season hits is dwindling. Since the vaccine takes a couple of weeks to work while the body is building antibodies, Brempel urges students not to wait much longer — especially since, if taken in time, the vaccine provides complete immunity to each included strain.
“This shot will protect against those three strains, absolutely. You will not get them,” Brempel said.
Of course, the yearly vaccination is only the experts’ best guess as to what the flu will look like that year. Viruses mutate and change all the time, meaning that if a flu shot is administered, the person might still get some other strain throughout the winter. Ly hopes students who have experienced that don’t lose faith in the flu shot, because you never know what strain your body may need protection from.
“It’s so important to get the flu shot every year, because the strains could be changing or mutating,” Ly said.
Students have a better chance of staying healthy this winter if they are immune to three strains instead of zero, but Brempel, too, acknowledged the element of chance involved in preventing the flu. She summed up the problem with three succinct words: “Viruses are crazy.”
Image: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor