On Campus

Why students should get the H1N1 vaccine

Set aside your invincibility complex and protect those around you

Yesterday, I started thinking about the H1N1 vaccine.  The “swine flu” is something I’d only been sort of considering and only in the abstract.  It would cross my consciousness now and then when I read a news report or saw a mass-mail email from Dalhousie in my Inbox.  The news would filter in one ear and out the other.  It felt far away, inconsequential.  All of that ended this week when I found out that the swine flu has landed at my school.

Since we’re small, we often end up feeling separated from the outside world.  As I learned today in a class from another student, H1N1 showed up at Dal residence in September.  “It’s not a new thing,” she told me, in that patient tone I get a lot from Dal students.

I guess it’s not.  We have been hearing about this full-blown pandemic since June when the WHO declared it.  We’ve become experts at sneezing into arms and pumping the Purell as we traipse down the hall.  And this month, we’ve started hearing about the hows and wheres and whens of the promised vaccine.

I never get the flu shot.  Instead of getting the flu shot, I make fun of my friends who do get the yearly vaccine by telling them “Congratulations!  You won’t get the flu last year”.  Especially for young, healthy people like me, I have real questions about the efficacy of the usual flu vaccines.  I think that this led to my blase attitude over the new H1N1 vaccine.

I’m not the only one lacking much motivation.  Macleans.ca tells me that as the first wave has died down, so too has vaccine excitement:

A recent poll shows that, as of the first week of October, only one in three Canadians plan on getting the H1N1 vaccine, according to Harris/Decima. That’s down from 45 per cent in late August.

The picture the WHO painted for us seems sketchy now.  A lot of people have been getting H1N1… and then recovering.  People we even know.  And now as cold and flu season sets in, we get… the normal cold.  Where is this pandemic of appocalyptic proportions I was worried about?  I don’t see it.  So I stopped worrying.

When my degree of separation to H1N1 went from triple digits to single overnight, I woke up.   There is more at stake then my health, or worse, my midterms.   If I woke up tomorrow and realized that this head cold is actually H1N1, even if I immediately went into quarantine, I would have exposed a lot of people to my illness already:  all of the people in all of my classes; all of the people I rode on the bus with; the little girl I met on the quad; the little old ladies at the church.  My illness affects more people than just me.

Another point, an important one for university students, is that I live in residence, as do many university students.  We live in close quarters where we share rooms, cafeterias, and bathrooms.  As my mother has reminded me often, I am very at risk.  And I am not invincible.  Here is what someone who knows more than I do has to say in a Globe and Mail article:

“What the public needs to understand is that people who are getting critically ill with H1N1 look just like you and me – they’re essentially healthy people,” Anand Kumar of the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group, said in an interview.

This is not the flu that only the very young and the elderly need to worry about.  Check the news; this is incapacitating, and even killing, teenagers.   Andre Picard put it well in the Globe and Mail:

While H1N1 flu is unpleasant, only a fraction of the infected will get so sick that they require hospitalization, and fewer still will die. But because the denominator is so large, a lot of severely ill people will be in intensive care in the coming weeks, and the deaths will be counted in the hundreds, perhaps thousands.

This flu is not the usual flu, and I will not treat it like it is.  I will be getting the vaccine; and you should too.

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