On Tuesday, the University received 100 doses of the H1N1 vaccine from the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH). The University originally requested 1,000 doses. The gap reflects the widespread demand for the H1Ni vaccine that is causing shortages across the nation.
A campus-wide e-mail went out on Tuesday notified students of the vaccine’s arrival on campus. The University will initially be offering the vaccine only to high-risk individuals age 18 and under, as well as Health Center employees. The CT PDH currently designates both groups as priority populations.
“At this time, about 75 students contacted the Health Center for the H1N1 vaccine and only 16 are eligible due to stringent criteria regulated by the State Department of Health,” Joyce Walter Director of the University Health Center wrote in an e-mail to The Argus on Thursday.
Walter estimates that the CT DPH will likely expand the high-risk population to include individuals in the 19-24 age range in the near future.
“It is doubtful [that] we have 100 18-year old or younger students with risk factors to be eligible,” Walter wrote.
In September, University Medical Director Dr. Davis Smith registered with the CT DPH to be a provider for the 2009 Influenza A, or H1N1 vaccine on campus. The shipment came in an inactivated form in multi-dose vials. Both Smith and Walter believe that the University will receive more shipments of the vaccine in the near future. Smith recommends that all students receive the vaccine if possible. Only individuals who have had proven cases of H1N1 do not need to receive the vaccine.
The first doses will be offered by appointment at the University Health Center. If the University receives more doses, the Health Center will explore hosting clinics like those offered for the seasonal flu. Currently the vaccine is being offered free of charge by the federal government, in contrast to the $37 fee for the seasonal flu vaccine offered on campus.
Although the University normally administers a single flu clinic in November, the University already sponsored four seasonal flu shot clinics, vaccinating 908 students and 524 faculty and staff members. There were 1,432 vaccinations in total, which was nearly a 200 percent increase from the 500 University affiliates who were vaccinated last November.
Both Walter and Smith acknowledged a convergence of factors—including heightened public anxiety regarding influenza as well as increased advertisement on campus—that contributed to the upswing in vaccinations this year. A number of students received the vaccine for the first time this year.
“I’d like to believe our efforts to publicize availability of [seasonal] flu shots and publicize rationale behind getting vaccinate [contributed to the increase in vaccinations this year],” Smith said. “I also recognize people are exposed to a climate of anxiety regarding the flu.”
The University decided to hold a series of flu clinics earlier this year to reduce the risk of students contracting both seasonal flu and H1N1. According to Smith, at this point there is effectively no seasonal flu in the region, although H1N1 remains widespread. Seasonal flu generally peaks between December and February.
The H1N1 vaccine became available in the United States for at-risk populations in early October. According to The New York Times, currently only 16 million doses of the vaccine are available, about 30 percent below the 40 million that was expected to be available by the end of the month. According to The Hartford Courant, as of Oct. 21, 128,100 doses of H1N1 vaccine had been shipped to Connecticut, down from the 500,000 doses the state had expected to receive by mid-October.
“Unfortunately, when we get close to seasonal flu we’re not really going to be able to know if they [students displaying influenza-like symptoms] have seasonal flu or H1N1,” Walter said. “If you get both vaccines, you’ll have a minimal chance of getting sick.”
According to Walter, the University was fortunate to receive nearly 1,500 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine. Many companies have switched to producing the H1N1 vaccine limiting the access to the seasonal flu vaccine across the country.
According to a campus-wide e-mail sent out by Smith on Oct. 23, there continue to be moderate levels of influenza-like illness on campus with an average of six identified cases per day during the month of October. Of these cases, the Health Center estimates that between one quarter and one third are H1N1. Most students displaying influenza-like symptoms have recovered within several days to a week; no one has been hospitalized. For treatment, the Health Center recommends self-isolation, symptomatic care, and prescription of anti-viral medication for patients at high-risk for complications.
According to Smith, influenza pandemics generally pass through populations in waves and with each wave, more individuals in the population have developed immunity to the virus strain and thus, fewer are left at risk for becoming ill.
“I am hopeful that this wave of the H1N1 pandemic will taper off by the end of the semester,” Smith said. “But we may get another wave next semester.”