GVSU competes to fight the flu

Duane Emery

In the battle to fight influenza, the real challenge comes from getting people vaccinated. Everyone loves a little friendly competition, and defending individuals against the flu is a crucial part of staying healthy through the winter months. For the first time, Grand Valley State University is participating in a challenge that brings these two ideas together.

The College and University Flu Vaccination Challenge, put on by the Michigan department of community health, tasks universities with seeing which one can get the most students vaccinated. This year, GVSU joins other colleges such as Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and others in a competition where everyone is a winner.

“Everyone wins with this challenge through protection from influenza and increased knowledge of the illness,” said Mary Jo Miedema, a nurse at the GVSU Family Health Center.

Though this is the heart of the challenge, there are other benefits to participating as well.

According to the vaccination challenge website, by participating in the challenge GVSU will receive access to educational resources and programs. GVSU will also receive an award of participation and a chance to win free registration to state immunization conferences. Universities that perform exceptionally well will also be recognized with an award of excellence, though currently GVSU is not in first place for most students vaccinated.

“Vaccination numbers are about the same this year so far, if not a bit lower than last fall,” Miedema said. “We have given about 500 vaccines to students.”

She said as the flu spreads, more people will want to get protected and participation will pick up. However, she stressed early vaccination.

“Students tend to think the flu won’t affect them,” said Ann Sheehan, the assistant dean for practice at the Kirkhof College of Nursing. “This campaign should help highlight the need for everyone to receive the vaccine on an annual basis.”

Sheehan said the college population is very vulnerable, yet the percentage of students who are vaccinated through the FHC is very low.

“It takes about two weeks for us to build immunity to the flu virus after receiving the vaccine,” Miedema said. “So vaccinate early in the fall for the best protection. We are already seeing cases of the flu in Michigan.”

According to Miedema, the vaccine this year protects against four strains of influenza.

“One of the greatest misconceptions about the vaccine is that you will get the flu from it,” she said. “As long as a person does not have any contraindications (a condition which makes a treatment inadvisable) to receiving the vaccine, there are no negative effects or risks. The greatest risks come from having influenza and its associated complications.”

According to Sheehan, patients are screened for these conditions to determine if the vaccine could harm them. She also said that although there are contraindications to the vaccine, the benefits far outweigh the potential side effects.

The FHC is planning another vaccine clinic for students on Nov. 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the DeVos Center. Students can also walk into the FHC during office hours and get vaccinated. Vaccines cost $25 and can be billed to student accounts. However, many health insurances cover the cost as well, Miedema said. Once vaccinated, students are asked to go to www.surveymonkey.com/s/flubattle for a brief survey so GVSU gets credit toward the challenge.