UAA health center provides students and staff with seasonal flu shot, H1N1 vaccine included

Flu season caused pandemonium across the nation last year. Headlines from USA Today read “College students, here’s why you should get H1N1 vaccine” and “Older patients most likely to die from H1N1; Obese people felled disproportionately.” Fortunately, the new virus proved to be far less lethal to humans than expected.

Flu season has come again. The Student Health and Counseling Center provided between 300 and 400 flu shots to students, faculty and staff during its Walk-in Flu Clinic last week. The shots were priced at $15.

The 2010-2011 flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused much worry around the world last season.

The clinic, which lasted Monday through Friday, provided close to 100 flu shots per day, on average, according to director of the Student Health and Counseling Center Bette Fenn. The turnout was in tune with expectations of a normal flu season. Last year’s flu season, however, was not so routinely steady.

“Last year, we sold out 1,000 shots in two days because of the H1N1 pandemic,” Fenn said.

The H1N1 virus was first detected in the United States in April 2009. Initial reports referred to the virus as a swine-origin influenza virus, but investigators of the initial human cases did not identify exposures to pigs and it quickly became apparent that the new virus was circulating among humans and not among US pig herds, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

By May, the CDC had discovered several interesting things about the new virus. For example, it was determined that H1N1 was a quadruple-reassortant virus, meaning that it contained virus genes that originated from four different influenza virus sources. Two of the virus’s gene segments are normally found in swine influenza viruses from Asia and Europe. At the same time the virus samples were found to be very similar, which means they likely originated from the same source.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic of 2009 H1N1 influenza on June 11, 2009. At the time, more than 70 countries had reported cases of H1N1 infection, according to the CDC.

The first six weeks after initial release of vaccines were characterized by high demand and limited availability. Because initial supplies were limited, most state and local health departments requested that the vaccine be given only to those in initial target groups, such as young children and elderly, and many restricted use to those in sub-preauthorization groups that had been outlined by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

“The reason for the shortage (of vaccines) was that the need for a H1N1 vaccine displaced manufacturing of some of the seasonal vaccines,” Fenn said. “Thus, there was a shortage of seasonal flu shots because everyone was scrambling to get the H1N1 vaccine manufactured and out to market.”

Manufacturing for the 2009 seasonal flu vaccine was well underway when H1N1 swept the nation last year. As a result, the vaccine developed for treatment of H1N1 could not be added to the seasonal flu shot. This resulted in two separate shots: one shot for H1N1 and one shot for the seasonal flu.

The 2010 seasonal flu shot contains both vaccines.

“That’s usually how (the manufacturing of vaccines) works,” Fenn said. “Health officials examine all the strains that are predominant across the nation and the world, and then they determine what will go into that year’s vaccine.”

While H1N1 did not prove to be as threatening as first thought, it certainly did hit certain pockets of the general population.

“Pacific islanders, native Americans and pregnant women,” Fenn said. “Those groups seemed to be more effected by H1N1 and that’s where a higher number of deaths occurred.”

It is not known exactly how many people die each year from influenza related illnesses. Over the past 31 years, flu-associated deaths have ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000. An estimate of 36,000 is presented frequently, but the CDC considers the range of deaths a more accurate representation because of the unpredictability and variability of flu-associated deaths.

It is recommended that everyone receive a seasonal flu shot. The university has a high level of community exposure. On campus there are large groups of people and it is uncontrollable to know who washes their hands or who uses tissue. Anyone who works in a health field or works in an area of higher exposure to the general population is urged to get a seasonal flu shot.

On Aug. 10, 2010, the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee declared an end to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic globally.