Although the H1N1 vaccine is not available yet, University and public health officials estimate it will be distributed to the public in late October or early November.
But as the threat of a swine flu pandemic looms, a major question remains for University officials preparing for its arrival: how many students will want to be vaccinated?
Dr. Robert Winfield, the University’s chief medical officer, said the University ordered approximately 25,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine. While more than 40,000 students attend the University, Winfield said he doesn’t expect more than half of the students will want to be vaccinated.
“We don’t anticipate everybody will want to get the vaccine,” he said, adding that only about 10 percent of University students get vaccinated for the seasonal flu.
The regular, seasonal influenza vaccine — which doesn’t prevent people from contracting H1N1 — will be available to students in late September.
Winfield said the University will practice a mass vaccination with the seasonal flu shot as a way to prepare for the H1N1 vaccine.
Students and faculty from the Schools of Public Health, Nursing and Dentistry and College of Pharmacy will help with vaccinations in the University Health Service’s Allergy, Immunization and Travel Health Clinic for $42. The Dean of Students Office will also offer seasonal flu vaccinations for a discounted price of $15 at Palmer Commons on Sept. 30.
Because University students were labeled as one of five priority groups for the H1N1 vaccine in late July, officials at colleges around the country are scrambling to make last-minute preparations.
When all people younger than age 24 became a priority group for the vaccine, Dr. Robert Ernst, the medical director of UHS, said the decision considerably changed the University’s planning.
“Suddenly our whole campus became a priority group,” Ernst said. “That change kind of pushed back our plans.”
UHS originally made arrangements to vaccinate priority groups like pregnant women and health care providers this fall, thinking that students would not be eligible to receive immunization until the spring.
“When the priority groups changed to include the college students, we’ve had to accelerate our plans to come up with strategies that would allow for mass vaccination for the whole campus,” Ernst said.
According to Winfield, the Centers for Disease Control determined the priority groups based on two factors: who gets infected and who is at risk of death.
Currently, pregnant women are the first on the list to get vaccinated, followed by caregivers of children younger than six months, health care providers and emergency personnel, individuals ages six months to 24, and individuals ages 25 to 64 who have high risk factors.
Winfield said he expects the groups to change due to the amount of H1N1 vaccine on hand.
“What we think will happen is that there won’t be enough vaccine, and they will have to narrow those guidelines,” he said.
Winfield cited the CDC had dropped its original estimate of 160 million doses of the vaccine being available by Oct. 15. That figure has since been reduced to 45 million, according to The Associated Press. The reduction appears to be a delay rather than a shortage though, as 20 million more doses are expected to be shipped out every week after that Oct. 15 date, according to the report.
When the vaccine comes out, it will be free of charge for students.
Additionally, public health officials expect H1N1 will require two vaccinations about two to three weeks apart.
Ernst said the second shot could make it difficult to keep track of student vaccinations.
“If you imagine we have 40,000 students, and they all become priority for H1N1 and they all need two shots plus the seasonal flu shot, that’s starting to sound pretty complicated,” he said.
He added that UHS will not be able to accommodate every student seeking vaccinations and that faculty and students in the health sciences schools and the health service are working together to provide seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccinations.
Because influenza shots are injected in a muscle, a medical degree is not required to administer the vaccine. As long as a health official supervises them, Nursing and Public Health students can volunteer to give the shot to fellow students.
Cindra James, emergency preparedness coordinator at the Washtenaw County Public Health Department, said the department will also recruit University students and students from Washtenaw Community College to help administer the vaccine to county residents.
All vaccine orders from hospitals and private medical providers will be shipped to the Health Department, which will receive weekly shipments of the vaccine based on its availability. The providers will then coordinate with the department to arrange delivery or pick-up.
Although the county’s Public Health Department does not yet know how many doses it will receive, James said it has been preparing by purchasing more refrigerators to store the vaccine and working with clinics, homeless agencies and jails to ensure everyone in Washtenaw County has access to the immunization.
Additionally, the Health Department is working with the public and private schools in the area so they know how to handle any outbreaks.
“We’re working with the schools to make sure they know they don’t have to close down if H1N1 appears with their school,” James said. “But they have to work with the parents to inform them how long to keep kids at home.”
On campus, UHS is encouraging students to get vaccinated for both H1N1 and the seasonal flu.
“We expect that there will be seasonal flu like there is every year,” Ernst said, “and the H1N1 will present in very similar ways, so it’s not going to be very clear if people do get sick whether or not it’s H1N1 or seasonal flu, so anything people can do to protect themselves from getting sick we think is a good idea.”
LSA sophomore Josh Symes is considered at risk for getting H1N1 because he has asthma. Although he said he usually gets vaccinated for the seasonal flu and plans on getting the H1N1 vaccine as an extra precaution, he’s not too concerned about a massive outbreak on campus.
“I haven’t thought about it enough to get worried about it,” he said.
While only high-risk patients like Symes will receive medication if they become infected with H1N1, all students with the virus will be asked to wear a mask, which will be provided in the residence halls. Logan said the masks are to prevent healthy students from contracting the illness.
“We are going to ask students who are sick to wear a mask when their roommate is present so as not to expose them to the droplets of moisture from sneezes or coughs that can carry the virus,” he said.
Additionally, non-alcohol based hand sanitizer will be placed in residence hall lobbies, dining halls and community centers.
In another attempt to reduce the spread of germs, University Housing is trying a new tactic that asks students who eat at the Hill Dining Center to swipe their own MCard before entering the cafeteria, instead of a dining hall employee.
“Our greeters typically wear protective gloves, but any germs from one card that are picked up on the greeters’ gloves may be passed on to the next card,” Logan wrote in an e-mail interview. “So having students swipe their own meal cards reduces the back-and-forth exchange of multiple cards through the greeters.”
Logan added that the trial effort has been well-received by students dining in Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall, and University Housing plans to try it at other dining centers.