NJ pushing college students to ‘fight the flu’ — with vaccine
PISCATAWAY — Oh yeah, flu shots. Screw that.
A rushed Rutgers University student was heard muttering that exact phrase as he passed by an event in the Busch Student Center that was offering free flu vaccinations for eight hours — the second of three sessions planned by the university during the colder months.
For most students, college marks the first time they're not under constant watch by their parents. And getting vaccinated for the flu, which killed 80,000 people in the U.S. last winter, isn't typically a priority.
While most college students nationwide (70 percent) believe it's important to receive an annual influenza vaccine, just 46 percent typically get vaccinated, according to an October 2017 survey from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
That mindset is one of the reasons Rutgers received a visit from the New Jersey Department of Health, which is promoting its #FightTheFluNJ campaign with visits to locations throughout the state this fall.
DOH Principal Deputy Commissioner Jackie Cornell said college students are at an elevated risk for contracting the flu due to their close living conditions and a lifestyle — including some sleepless nights — that's not ideal for fighting off diseases.
"On average, when a college student gets the flu, they're sick up to eight days," Cornell told a crowd. "While eight days may not sound like a lot, that's eight days that might coincide with finals or midterms or spring break."
Influenza's symptoms can be very serious, she added, particularly for those with underlying health conditions.
"And it's about herd immunity — you might be interacting with folks who haven't gotten vaccinated because they can't," she said.
Cornell received her flu shot at the event, along with hundreds of students.
"This is easy, I'm just right in between classes," said Rutgers senior Brian Lerner.
With Tuesday's event, Jessica Tuazon has now received a shot on campus each of her four years as a student at Rutgers.
"I don't think it's on a lot of students' minds," she said. "But having a clinic that's very visible within our student centers is a real help to remind students."
At the university's first vaccine clinic in early October, approximately 950 vaccinations were administered. That's more than the total number of shots given at all three clinics the previous academic year.
Eleven colleges and universities in New Jersey have signed on to the state health department's Flu Challenge, a friendly competition designed to see which campus can get the most students vaccinated.
Currently, flu activity is considered "low" in each region of the state, according to the state's latest figures.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.