November marks the arrival of colder weather, shorter days and a sinister virus — it is not Ebola, but influenza. While the public’s attention is fixed squarely on Ebola, it is important to remember that the flu claims around 25,000 American lives each year. It is far more likely for an American to die of the flu than of Ebola. On a college campus like NYU’s, where the mix of new pathogens and close living quarters guarantees a cold or two, students should take precautions to avoid getting sick and spreading the flu to others.
An obvious protective measure is getting a flu shot. The NYU Student Health Center has been offering free flu shots to NYU students, providing a convenient way for students to get vaccinated. Also, pharmacies around campus like CVS and Walgreens offer walk-in flu shots. Regardless of accessibility, it is likely that some Americans will not get vaccinated because they wrongly believe that vaccines are dangerous.
This view is horribly outdated and misinformed, yet it has persisted since the publication of a 1998 paper linking vaccines to autism in a prestigious medical journal. The research was immediately questioned, and ultimately disproved and retracted, but the damage was done. In 2007, the anti-vaccine issue was once again popularized when former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy and various other celebrities spoke about the supposed dangers of vaccination. While both government and private institutions have worked to dispel these unfounded claims, the anti-vaccine movement has left a lasting imprint on the collective American psyche. In 2010, a study found that 14 percent of Americans did not get vaccinated because they did not “believe” in flu vaccines. Another 14 percent did not get vaccinated because they thought they would experience negative health effects as a result.
The facts speak for themselves: it is biologically impossible to get the flu from a flu shot. A small amount of discomfort is expected — and some do experience short-term flu-like symptoms — but the pain is nothing compared to the actual flu. The shot does not contain dangerous components, and vaccines are tested extensively before they are put in use. Flu shots do not cause autism or Alzheimer’s, nor do they weaken the immune system. They do reduce the risk of catching the flu by about 60 percent among the overall population. False claims should not prevent students from getting a flu shot.
Anti-vaxxers endanger both themselves and others when they refuse to get vaccinated. NYU’s last free flu vaccine event will be on Thursday, Nov. 13 from noon to 4 p.m. in the Kimmel Student Resource Center. Save the date — make the decision that benefits everyone.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 3 print edition. Email Sharika Dhar at [email protected]news.com.