Public and private colleges and universities across the United States are now requiring their students to get flu shots, despite the fact that seasonal influenza rates remain low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to the American College Health Association, a sampling of 86 higher education institutions found nearly approximately 14 percent required vaccination for influenza. In Massachusetts, a state mandate requires all full-time undergraduate and graduate college students younger than age 30, as well as all health-science students, to have a flu shot. Online students who never physically enter campuses are exempt. Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey are considering similar action.
Anyone “living, learning, or working on-premises” at any University of California campus was required to have a flu shot before November 1. Additionally, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of Kentucky, Boston University, Syracuse University, Indiana University, Cornell, Purdue, and Johns Hopkins University require flu shots, though not all are newly mandated.
According to an analysis by FREOPP.org, the risk of death from flu is highest for children under age 4 (6.16 to 7.64 percent) and lowest for those between the ages of 15 to 24 (1.98 percent), while those between the ages of 25 to 34 face a 3.58 percent risk of death.
Influenza is a misunderstood disease, says Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News.
“Influenza stats are very confusing because the CDC conflates influenza-related illness with laboratory-confirmed influenza and pneumonia,” Orient said. “Deaths in college students are rare.”
College students are unlikely to get seriously sick or die from flu, says Erwin Haas, M.D., an infectious disease expert and Heartland policy advisor.
“In a career that has spanned 40 to 50 years, I maybe have seen a dozen people who should not have died from influenza die of it [due to] serious underlying conditions, such as lung disease,” Haas said.
The efficacy of flu shots can vary year to year due to the changing strains of influenza. Vaccine developers must predict which strain will attack for an upcoming season.
“Finding the correct component is very, very difficult and sometimes impossible,” Haas said.
“Evidence for the value of the flu shot, especially for reducing transmission, is very weak,” Orient said. “Even Dr. Fauci acknowledges the possibility of antibody-dependent enhancement, antibodies paradoxically making the disease worse. The majority of medical professionals would not take it, but for mandates.”
Ashley Bateman (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.