More than an apple: the flu shot is what keeps the doctor away

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 80,000 Americans died of the flu and its complications last winter–the highest death toll in at least four decades.

Wissam Al Khoury, a graduate student in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, presented a recent study to the CDC that found that Florida has an alarmingly low rate of flu vaccination. This leaves students, and the population at large, vulnerable to contracting the virus.

First developed in the 1930s, the flu vaccine is in an inactive form of the virus that helps the body create antibodies to help a person not get sick. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu or flu-like symptoms. Every year, a new flu vaccine is developed to combat the three or four strains of the virus that are expected to be most prevalent that season.

Nationally, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion goal of 70 percent annual flu vaccination coverage for children aged 6 months -17 years old by the year 2020. Yet, Al Khoury found that in Florida, of the 6,171 high school students who responded to a Florida Department of Health survey, 44.5% did not receive flu vaccinations in the prior 12 months.

“The numbers prove that not enough students are being vaccinated,” said Al Khoury. “Much more effort should be made to educate the population of the importance of getting the flu vaccine.”

Among the findings, females (53.3%), whites (46.8%, and heterosexuals reported higher rates of flu vaccination than blacks (26.8%), Hispanics (20.8%), or students identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual (54%). Students 16 years and older reported lower rates of vaccination than younger students.

When looking further at the data, Al Khoury noted that this rate falls even lower, to around 40 percent at best, for college students. Some college campuses’ vaccination rates can be as low as 8 percent. In a 2017 survey of 1,005 college students conducted for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), only 46 percent regularly got the flu vaccine and 59 percent thought that the flu shot can cause flu.

“This study shows how health disparities are responsible for significant differences in immunization rates, and it highlights the concerns that some students and their parents have about getting the flu shot,” continued Al Khoury. “The Florida Department of Health should be alarmed by these numbers. More work needs to be done to increase awareness of the nasal spray vaccinations to populations who are worried about the side effects of the flu shot.”

According to the CDC, “Anyone can get flu. Flu strikes suddenly and can last several days. Symptoms vary by age, but can include fever/chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache and runny or stuffy nose.”

October is the start of flu season. If you are interested in getting a flu vaccine or learning more about how to protect yourself from the flu virus this winter, there are resources available on campus. Students can visit the FIU Student Health Services to receive a free flu vaccine, while supplies last. Faculty and staff can visit FIU Health for their flu vaccine.