University of Maine students urged to get H1N1 vaccine

Posted Oct. 26, 2009, at 8:43 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Students at the University of Maine are being strongly urged to get vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus, which has sickened hundreds of young adults at other college campuses around the country and in the state. The free vaccine will be administered at two back-to-back clinics scheduled for Nov. 9 and 10 at the university’s field house.

On Monday, university officials announced the first laboratory-confirmed case of H1N1 in a student on the Orono campus. The unidentified student lives in a dormitory and does not have a roommate. The student has elected to stay on campus to recuperate, with residence hall staff and others attending to the student’s needs, ac-cording to a university spokesman.

It is assumed that many other UMaine students who have not been tested also have been sickened by the H1N1 virus. The Orono campus is the state’s largest residential educational institution, with a total student population of about 12,000. About 4,000 students live in on-campus dormitories.

In an e-mail sent to all students on Monday, Vice President for Student Affairs Robert Dana warned them not to downplay the danger of getting sick with H1N1.

“If you get H1N1, your life will be seriously disrupted,” Dana wrote. “At the minimum you will miss several days of classes, work and other activities. If you develop a more serious case, the consequences could be much worse and might even make it impossible for you to complete the semester’s work on schedule.”

Students are being asked to preregister for a specific time slot to get a vaccine and are being assured they will spend no more than one hour at the clinic.

“It would be unwise to ignore this opportunity. The minor inconvenience of committing an hour to getting a vaccination is nothing compared to dealing with a significant case of H1N1 virus,” Dana said in his e-mail.

University spokesman Joe Carr said Monday that 6,000 doses of the injectable H1N1 vaccine have been ordered, but that it is unlikely all doses will be delivered to the campus before the scheduled clinics, because of a national bottleneck of both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccine.

“We’re prepared to be flexible, to modify our plans based on availability,” Carr said. He said students who do not preregister would not be turned away as long as vaccine doses are available, although they may spend more time at the special field house clinics.

Vaccinations for the annual seasonal flu will not be available at the H1N1 clinics, but Carr said it is available to the university community through the Cutler Health Center.

Swine flu has hit hard at college campuses nationwide. In Maine, 265 students at Bates College in Lewiston and 194 students at Bowdoin College in Brunswick have been sickened since classes resumed this fall. Bates College spokesman Bryan McNulty said Monday that more than half of the affected students there went home to recuperate, and the college moved other sick students out of their dorms into college-owned houses to limit the spread of the virus.

Of the approximately 1,700 students attending Bates College, a total of about 1,000 have had the H1N1 vaccine, McNulty said.

“We think the worst is over,” he said.

At UMaine, Carr said there is no indication of very widespread illness at the Orono campus, but that as of last week, 27 students had self-reported flulike symptoms on the institution’s H1N1 Web site. Such reporting is voluntary, Carr said, so an accurate count of flu cases is not available.

“We expect that the number will start growing faster now,” Carr said, adding that the volume of students seeking care at the on-campus Cutler Health Center is increasing.

Dana credited the university’s H1N1 planning, which began last spring when the virus first emerged in Southern California, with holding down cases on campus to date, including a “full-bore campaign of information and public education” that met arriving students in September. Offering the H1N1 vaccine is another way the university can help students stay healthy, he said.

“We want to reiterate that we want people to take this seriously,” Dana said. “This is an illness that has made some people very sick and that is very disruptive to college students.”

While some students and others at UMaine have expressed concerns about the H1N1 vaccine’s safety, Dana pointed out that the public health community, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, continues to assure the public of both its safety and its effectiveness.

“I have three kids” — ages 22, 20 and 14 — “and they’ll all get vaccinated,” Dana said.

The UMaine H1N1 vaccine clinics will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 9 and 10, at the University of Maine field house.

On the Web: www.umaine.edu/h1n1

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