Medical community sees hesitance toward flu vaccines
With the first case of the flu reported at Syracuse University last week, some students have chosen to opt out of the vaccination — not out of apathy, but because they’re hesitant.
“It’s not something you should just do right away; it’s something you should consider and definitely research before taking the vaccine,” said Ben Kintish, a junior mechanical engineering major who has never gotten the vaccination.
Many in the Syracuse medical community have witnessed a trend of apprehension toward the flu vaccinations in the past several years.
For Kintish, this viewpoint was instilled in him at an early age. He said his parents never offered him a choice in the matter because it seemed like something that was “excessively preventative.”
But last year he missed several weeks of classes with bronchitis, and learned that he’s at a higher risk for flu-related complications because he has asthma.
After getting an email from SU Health Services about its free seasonal flu clinics, he’s now going to get the vaccination for the first time.
But some students aren’t so sure.
Teresa Sabga, a sophomore magazine journalism major from Trinidad, said medicine and vaccinations are not widely used in the Caribbean. She said she prefers to get over illnesses naturally.
Young adults generally are not as tuned in to the benefits of vaccinations. It’s sort of this attitude that bad things won’t happen to me.
Maureen Thompson, an associate professor and director of the undergraduate public health program at SU
“We don’t believe in medicine; it’s like a very pure way of living,” she said.
Students like Felicia Neuhof, a sophomore communications design major, have mixed feelings regarding vaccinations.
Neuhof said while some vaccinations, such as the measles, mumps and rubella, are important, others for illnesses like the flu seem unnecessary. Her mother is not for all Western medicine, Neuhof said, and she’s never gotten the vaccination and has been fine.
Ben Domingo, director of Health Services, said during the first few flu clinics there appeared to be a decrease in the number of students getting immunized, but now they’ve caught up to last year.
Health Services has administered about 1,385 doses so far, compared to the 1,583 doses administered last year, he added in an email.
Maureen Thompson, an associate professor and director of the undergraduate public health program at SU, said she asks an introductory class she teaches every semester whether or not they’re getting the flu vaccination, and only about two out of 100 students even consider it.
Often, she said, students think they won’t get the flu or wrongly believe they can get the virus from the vaccination.
“Young adults generally are not as tuned in to the benefits of vaccinations,” she said. “It’s sort of this attitude that ‘bad things won’t happen to me.’”
This trend, though not extremely widespread, appears to be noticeable in the city of Syracuse.
Lanny Freshman, a pediatrician at Syracuse Pediatrics who has been practicing for 35 years, said he’s noticed most people choose not to get vaccinations that aren’t required.
Sometimes, he said, the vaccination doesn’t work because it doesn’t protect against every strain of the flu. But with as many as 30,000 American deaths during some flu seasons, it’s still important to do it anyway, he said.
Freshman said there’s a misconception that the flu vaccination prevents sickness in general.
To illustrate his point, Freshman said about six years ago he accidentally cut off part of two fingers with his table saw and missed two days of work. After having what may have been a heart attack a year ago, he said he also missed two days of work.
But after getting the flu, he missed more than a week, he said.
“The flu is not something to be taken lightly,” Freshman said.
John Epling, associate professor and chair of the department of family medicine at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, said there are several reasons why people are hesitant to get the vaccination.
He said many people consider the vaccination optional, though it is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which suggests education on the topic is inadequate.
In other cases, he said, there’s distrust of the government and manufacturers. While other vaccinations are largely accepted, the ones for the human papillomavirus and the flu generate the most uneasiness, Epling said.
Apprehension to vaccinations in general also started for several reasons, said Sandra Lane, a professor of public health with an area of specialization in maternal and infant health and well-being.
Some of this began after Andrew Wakefield published an inaccurate report in the prominent British medical journal, “The Lancet,” in 1998, claiming there was a link to vaccines and autism, she said. Celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy also championed the cause, Lane said.
But, Lane said, there’s absolutely no evidence there’s a link, and research later found Wakefield’s findings to be fraudulent. In her opinion, the increase in autism cases is due to better ways of diagnosing it.
There’s also a generational element, she said.
There are many people today who haven’t seen diseases such as chicken pox, whooping cough or polio, and some parents are opting not to immunize their children because of this — resulting in outbreaks of diseases believed to be on the verge of eradication.
“They think that it’s normal to have all the kids grow up with no deaths from infectious diseases. They think that’s normal,” Lane said. “And they think that’s normal just because they eat right and take care of their kids.”
Though all medicines, even Tylenol, have side-effects, Lane said parents have to vaccinate their children, describing this as “a population level trade-off.”
In New York state, the measles, mumps, rubella vaccination is the only one required in order attend college, said Lynn Pollock, a public health program nurse at the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Immunization.
While there are some pockets of the population that have high-rates of people who aren’t vaccinated, statewide rates have remained stable and unchanging, she said.
At SU, students can request a religious exemption from the MMR vaccination, said Domingo, the director of Health Services. There are only 24 students who filed for this, he said.
Sam Clemence, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and adviser for the Christian Science College Organization at SU — which is based on the idea of spiritual healing — said the topic of vaccination has come up in the past, but students have been easily able to file a waiver request.
He said the topic has not come up this year and emphasized that it’s up to the individual to make this decision.
Students must also submit a form to Health Services indicating whether or not they’ve been vaccinated for meningitis, Domingo said. Failing to due so not only can lead to a student being unable to register for classes, but it has other potential consequences, he said.
“If we have an outbreak on campus, and we don’t have your immunization record, I can’t tell you if you’re sick,” he said.
Despite differing views on the subject, there is no disagreement about the necessity of both flu and other vaccinations in the medical community, said Lane, the professor of public health.
She said it’s not a choice like which presidential candidate you’re voting for, and the media often thinks giving both sides of a story means equal representation in it.
“There’s a biological finding that those of us in public health consider to be true,” Lane said. “And we respect the opinion of people on the other side and understand how they got their opinion — but we don’t believe they hold the truth.”
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