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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

H1N1 vaccine arrives, high risk students vaccinated beginning today

Published: November 13, 2009
Section: Front Page

The_Hoot_11-13-09_Page_01_Image_0005n]The university will begin inoculating “high priority” high risk students with the H1N1 vaccine today. The university has already inoculated Brandeis healh care workers with the H1N1 vaccine earlier this week, and will now begin to inoculate high risk students.

Director of the Health Center Dr. Debra Poaster wrote in an e-mail message to The Hoot that the Health Center contacted students whom the Center knew to have medical conditions that put them at “high priority” high risk of being severely infected by the virus.

High priority students were notified in an e-mail message from Tobey Fidler, a nurse at the Health Center, that they should go to the health center today between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to be inoculated.

“We will not be able to hold doses for an undefined time period as we need to get to the next tier of priority students,” the e-mail, which was forwarded to The Hoot by an anonymous recipient of the e-mail, said. “Keep in mind that MANY other students would like to be getting their H1N1 vaccine asap, so I’d like to ask for your sensitivity in not publicizing your vaccine status.”

In accordance with Department of Public Health guidelines, health care workers were vaccinated first in order to diminish the spread of disease, followed by those at high risk of contracting the disease and of suffering most from the virus.

After high priority students are vaccinated, the Health Center will vaccinate “high risk” students.

High risk students must fill out a “Request for Flu Shot” available in PDF form on the Health Center’s website in order to qualify for the first round of H1N1 vaccines, Sawyer wrote in a campus-wide e-mail message to the Brandeis community on Tuesday.

High risk students include those who are under 24-years old and are pregnant, caregivers to an infant less than six-months old, have chronic pulmonary diseases including asthma and cystic fibrosis, cardiovascular diseases such as valvular heart disease, chronic renal or liver disease or transplant recipients, neurologic/neuromuscular conditions that cause breathing or swallowing problems, hematologic diseases or current cancer, Diabetes or adrenal disease, or those whose immune systems are suppressed.

Poaster wrote in her e-mail to The Hoot that the Health Center has contacted students who have medical conditions that put them at high risk.

Students who complete the form and turn it in by hand to the health center will be contacted via e-mail when the Health Center is ready to dispense the vaccine.

The H1N1 vaccines are being distributed to the university by the federal government through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and do not cost the university money.

Because vaccinations for high-risk students will be dispensed through the Health Center and by its staff, vaccinations will be free for high-risk students. Once the Health Center receives enough doses to dispense to the larger student body, however, the Health Center will have to outsource the clinic-style vaccinations, and therefore will have to charge students for the vaccines in order to cover labor costs.

Sawyer said this cost “will be minimal.”

“We certainly do not want to do anything that discourages students from getting the vaccine if they want it.”

If a high risk student becomes ill with flu-like symptoms before they receive the vaccine, the Health Center will treat that student with Tamiflu–the prescription drug used to treat the flu.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the university has had 154 cases of flu-like illness since the beginning of the semester, none of which have been treated with Tamiflu.

Sawyer said in an interview with The Hoot that the Health Center is reserving its supply of Tamiflu for high risk students who become infected with the virus so as not to run out and to avoid the H1N1 virus becoming resistant to the drug.

All students who have had flu-like symptoms this semester have been treated with ibuprofen and were either sent home or isolated on campus for the duration of their illness in order to avoid the spread of disease.

“154 sounds like a lot of students, but compared to other schools, we’re pretty well off–knock on wood,” Sawyer said. “We’ve been able to manage this so well because of the cooperation of students.”

Students who have already had the flu, no matter what strain of the virus, should still seek the vaccine when it is available and when they qualify, Sawyer said, adding that because the university has not been testing students, there is no way to know whether they have immunity to H1N1 without getting inoculated.

Sawyer wrote in the e-mail that he hopes all students who want to will be vaccinated by late November or early December; however, in an interview with The Hoot he said he is unsure of the students’ interest in the vaccine.

“Every night on NBC news I see lines of people waiting to get vaccines at clinics all over the country,” he said, “but here we’ve only had the occasional inquiry by parents about the vaccines. There has not been a lot of inquiry.”

This year, the health center held three to four clinics to distribute the seasonal flu vaccine and students “showed up at the normal pace” Sawyer said.

“We’re all wondering what the reaction to the H1N1 vaccine will be,” he said.

Poaster of the Health Center wrote in her e-mail that students should “follow the simple guidelines we have previously described” to avoid the spread of disease while waiting to get vaccinated.

“Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Don’t share drinks or cigarettes. Self-isolate if you are sick,” she wrote.

Students with additional questions should contact the Health Center at (781)-736-3677.

The Request for Flu Shot form is availible at