By REBECCA TURNER
I’ve never had the flu, but it rocked my last year of middle school.
In seventh grade I decided to play basketball, but it was too late to sign up for my town league. Luckily, my parents were coaching girls’ basketball at the private catholic school in Rhode Island where my mother teaches — I was able to join their B-team.
All of the other girls went to school together, but they truly made me feel part of the team. There were only eight of us on that JV team — one was a girl named Victoria Sousa, who I remember as being hardworking and quietly funny. The following year, the media referred to her as “that little girl from Bristol.”
Victoria contracted H1N1 — the swine flu — in fall of 2009 and passed away, just shy of the next basketball season. It was a huge shock to the community and it was especially tragic to those who knew Victoria.
She had been healthy multi-sport athlete before coming down with the flu and that made it infinitely more scary. Her story greatly impacted my perspective on the importance of flu vaccines and I think that is why it still baffles me why so many college students think they are invincible to the flu. You’re not.
The flu might not seem like a big deal, but it can be. Unfortunately, many families endure the unexpected loss that Victoria’s family experienced. Annually, the flu takes the lives of thousands of people — ranging from 3,300 to as high as 49,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Victoria’s mother, Cathy Sousa, now advocates for flu vaccinations back in New England.
“The flu can be very dangerous!” Sousa said in an email. “It is not talked about enough. Many people of all ages die of the flu each year. You can not predict how it will attack your body. Just like it did Victoria.”
What baffles me are the excuses people come up with for not getting the flu vaccine. One that I hear a lot is that people think they will get the flu from the vaccine. That’s ludicrous. It is not possible to contract the flu from the vaccine. The flu shot is a dead version of the virus and the nasal spray is a weakened “live” form of the virus that doesn’t survive once introduced to your lungs or airway, according to the CDC.
Something else that’s important to note is that it takes two full weeks after getting your flu vaccine for it to protect you against the flu, according to Mayo Clinic. So, those people who tell you they got the flu from the vaccine probably got it because they weren’t actually protected yet and not because the vaccine caused it. And because of this two-week gap, you should get your flu vaccine early.
“Unfortunately, there was no flu vaccine available for this flu when she got sick,” Sousa said. “If there was, she would be a sophomore in college just like many of you are now.”
But, you have the opportunity to protect yourself against this year’s flu and you need to take advantage of it.
Some of those “health” articles that you’ll see circulating on Facebook say that the flu vaccine is ineffective, but that is not something you should be concerned about. This skepticism comes from the imperfect scientific predictions of which flu strains will be most prevalent each year, according to Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog. The flu could put your life on the line and the vaccine reduces your risk. In the overall population, administration of the flu vaccine lowers the risk 50 to 60 percent, as reported by the CDC.
Another thing I’ve heard people tell me is that because they are healthy, they don’t need a flu shot. Healthy people get the flu, too. Victoria did. Even if you are healthy and not in a “high-risk” category, you should get the flu vaccine every year. The strains expected to arise each flu season change from year to year and, because of that, the vaccine does too. Even if you had one last year, you need a new one this year.
Some will also say that they don’t need a vaccine since “everybody else is getting it,” but that is far from true. Since flu vaccines aren’t often mandated by schools, like vaccinations for many other illnesses, there really isn’t the same type of “herd immunity,” that you might expect. This is especially relevant for college students as only 33 percent of adults ages 18 to 49 received a flu vaccination last year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. You aren’t going to be protected by others — you need to protect yourself by getting vaccinated.
It’s not too late. Flu season usually begins sometime in October, but it can last into the spring with a flu peak in January, according to the CDC.
“Please stay safe and healthy and get the flu shot,” Sousa said. “Don’t let what happened to Victoria happen to you or your friends when there is a safe way to avoid it!”
Full-time students can get this season’s four-strain flu vaccine through the health center for free. On Oct. 14 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. health center staff will hold a flu clinic in front of Sykes. Alternatively, students can call the Health Center at 813-253-6250 or do a walk-in to set up an appointment.
Don’t risk your health by forgoing vaccination. Allow yourself as much protection as possible against influenza. A needle stick is a small price to pay for your health during flu season.
Rebecca Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org