Amid rise in cases, University Health Services still waiting on flu vaccines

    As Northwestern prepares for another wave of the H1N1 epidemic and for the outbreak of the seasonal influenza later this fall, the university is still waiting to receive its full stock of both flu vaccines, Northwestern University Health Service (NUHS) said Thursday.

    Meanwhile, the number of NU students with ILIs (Influenza Like Illnesses) has been going up, with 23 cases registered last week. Some of these students almost certainly have swine flu, since the seasonal flu has not begun to spread yet, according to Dr. Donald A. Misch, NUHS’s executive director.

    According to NUHS, complications with the development and manufacturing of the vaccines has delayed their shipment to campus. Although NUHS expects the vaccines to be available in mid-November, it stopped short of announcing an exact date.

    “When we get it, we’ll give it, [and that's] the best we’ve got right now,” said M. Susan Whiting, clinical practice manager at NUHS.

    The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the manufacturing of the H1N1 vaccine would be completed in mid-October, but this estimate is off, Misch said.

    According to the CDC’s Web site, the H1N1 virus has already been isolated and modified so that it may be used to make a vaccine. The CDC still expects manufacturing to be completed later this fall.

    Misch said that that NUHS did not know what quantity of the H1N1 vaccine Northwestern would receive, nor which of the five manufacturers that the federal government has employed would be Northwestern’s provider.

    He added that there would not be enough vaccine for everyone on campus. Although it is unlikely that the whole Northwestern community will need the vaccine at once, Misch said that students should take the epidemic seriously.

    “Most patients with H1N1 experience only moderate flu symptoms, but it can kill people,” he said. “Influenza usually kills the young, the old and the weak, but a disproportionate number of the deaths from H1N1 have been from the college age group.”

    Student Health Service’s flu kit. Photo by the author.

    The heavy demand for an H1N1 vaccine has also delayed the production of the seasonal flu vaccine. According to Misch, the H1N1 vaccination campaign is “the most massive vaccination campaign in history,” which complicates the making of the two vaccines at the same time.

    Nevertheless, NUHS has just received half of the seasonal flu vaccines scheduled to arrive three weeks ago and hopes to distribute it sometime next week at a price of $25.

    In the meantime, Student Health Services offer a variety of resources to help students prevent the spread of the epidemic, including a phone hotline and an online self-screening form for those who think they might have caught the virus. Health Services are also making flu kits that contain face masks, hand sanitizer and disposable reusable thermometers. The flu kits are for students who are sick, “but we won’t fight you for them,” Misch said.

    Northwestern also plans to ensure alternative housing for the roommates of infected students. There are additional plans to provide isolated housing for students with the virus. In addition, NUHS recommends that H1N1 patients isolate themselves for 24 hours after the fever has been resolved.

    Read the university’s latest message regarding the H1N1 influenza here.


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