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U. flu vaccination rate rises over last 5 years

More than 3,000 flu shots were administered on campus by Health Services this fall

The number of flu vaccinations administered by Health Services has more than doubled in the past five years, with 3,100 shots this year compared to 1,475 administered in the 2008-2009 academic year, said Infirmary Coordinator Monica Kunkel.

The increase could be the result of changing attitudes about the flu following the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, said Lecturer in Biology Richard Bungiro. Before the H1N1 pandemic, which disproportionately affected young people, it was widely believed that the elderly were most vulnerable to the virus.

The vaccination is “almost the cheapest kind of insurance you can buy,” Bungiro said, adding that a serious case of the flu can send a patient to the hospital and seriously harm a student academically.

Vaccinations cost the University about $10 each and are covered by the $690 annual health services fee, Kunkel said.

Bungiro said a large publicity campaign and the fact that flu shots are free have helped them become more popular in recent years.

“I would not get one at all if I had to pay for it,” said Josue Crowther ’15, adding that though he received a flu vaccination his freshman year at a clinic in the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, he has not had time to receive one since.

The benefits outweigh any inconvenience, said Natalia Perecki ’16. “You have a better immunity if you have it in your system, so why would you not want to take advantage of that?” she said.

Nine clinics have been held so far this year in the campus center as well as one at the Alpert Medical School, where all students working in health care are required by Rhode Island law to receive vaccinations, Kunkel said.

Bungiro said he receives a flu shot in front of his immunology class every year. Health service employees attend the class and offer students the vaccinations on-site.

The health services fee also covers HIV testing. Last year, 1,137 HIV tests were performed, a slight increase from approximately 1,000 administered last year. Health Services offers HIV screenings when a patient receives a routine physical or gynecological exam, The Herald previously reported.

Director of Health Services Edward Wheeler said these measures fit into a broader trend emphasizing the importance of preventative care.

“The big push in medicine is to think of an HIV test as a regular screening test that you would do periodically,” Wheeler said. “If you’re getting your cholesterol tested, you can get your HIV test at the same time.”

Kunkel said the de-stigmatization of HIV has made screenings more popular on campus since she joined Health Services in the late 1990s. “We have so many treatments and medications now that it is no longer looked upon the way it was when it was first discovered,” she said. “So the sooner you’re diagnosed, the sooner you can get into treatment and live without further interruption.”

“I think that message has gotten through to people,” she added.


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