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University anticipates flu outbreak and vaccine shortages

January 17, 2013


Washington has yet to experience the surge in early flu outbreaks felt in other parts of the country. Howeverm many, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,  are saying this year’s flu season will prove to be one of the worst on record, with 47 states having reported widespread infections. New York state and Boston have even declared health emergencies because of the alarming spike in flu cases.To preempt outbreaks, the University is already taking precautionary measures to protect student health.

Flu season has peaked early this year and the CDC has reported that doctor appointments for the flu have been above average throughout January.

Despite the absence of a high infection rate in the District, Dr. John Welsh from the Georgetown Student Health Center predicts the grim specter of the disease will soon descend over the city and the University.

“It does appear that the flu season will be more widespread this year,” Dr. Welsh wrote in an email to the Voice, “The District of Columbia, however, is not yet reporting widespread cases. We can anticipate, though, that the number of cases in D.C. will soon increase and our experience will be similar to our neighboring locales.”

Now that the public knows about the severity of this year’s flu season, many are rushing to obtain vaccinations while the infected are looking for the drug Tamiflu to counteract the disease. Clinics around the United States, however, are already reporting shortages of both the vaccine and the anti-flu drug. The CDC has reported that drug manufacturers have already distributed 128.1 million doses of the 135 million doses of flu vaccines manufactured. CVS and Rite Aid, two of the largest drugstores in the United States, have also begun reporting shortages of the flu vaccine.

Georgetown University is also concerned about running short on vaccines. Dr. Welsh said, “more than a dozen flu vaccination clinics in the fall at multiple locations throughout the main campus and law center,” but now the Health Center plans on saving its vaccines for the students most vulnerable to complications resulting from the flu.

“The Student Health Center has a very limited number of flu shots available for students with chronic health conditions who may be at particularly high risk,” Dr. Welsh wrote. Students considered at high risk for complications from the flu include, “those with asthma or other pulmonary diseases.”

More than 4,700 students, faculty, and staff received a flu vaccination from one of the clinics during the fall, but that represents only a fraction of the over 20,000 students, faculty, and staff who work and live at Georgetown.

Although the CDC admits a flu vaccination will only prevent the flu 60 percent of the time, it still advocates the vaccine as the most effective way to prevent the disease. And, despite recommendations by doctors and the CDC, some Georgetown students still refuse to get vaccinated.

“I feel that receiving a flu vaccination is unnecessary,” said Annie Wang (COL’16). “I have not received the flu in a long time and I have still not been infected. I also think that the possible side effects of the flu vaccination do not make it worth the trouble.”

The CDC does report that receivers of the flu vaccine have experienced side effects such as soreness, aches, and low-grade fever, but the majority who are vaccinated report no serious complications from the shot. However, the CDC cautions that the vaccine could cause serious harm to those allergic to the injection.

Whether you receive the flu vaccine or not, Dr. Welsh recommends good hygiene. Following basic practices such as washing your hands with soap and water and covering your hands with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and avoiding infected persons are an effective way to avoid the flu this winter.

Georgetown has even begun installing more hand sanitizer dispensers around the University to deter the spread of the flu, but its rapid spread may render those efforts futile.

Dr. Welsh implores students, especially those who have not received a flu vaccine, to remain distant from the possibly infected. When asked if she knew anyone who had cotractied the flu, Wang replied “My roommate.”



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