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MIT Hit by Flu Vaccine Shortage

By Brian Keegan

STAFF REPORTER

MIT Medical is expecting to receive only 15 percent of the flu vaccine it ordered and has used in past years for the 2004-2005 season, according to an Oct. 8 MIT Medical press release.

This comes as part of a nationwide shortage caused by contamination in the production lines of a British company that had been expected to provide almost half of the country’s supply of the vaccine.

MIT Medical is expecting to make its vaccine stock available “only to MIT students and MIT Health Plan members” who fall under high-risk categories prescribed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, namely “the very old, the very young, and those with chronic illnesses,” according to the press release.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is “recommending that healthy people who are not at risk for complications from the flu should not get the vaccine this year,” the press release said.

Students not worried

MIT students seem to be aware of, but not too worried about, the nationwide vaccine shortage. Nevertheless, they think the shortage could have a negative effect on the elderly and other at-risk groups.

“My perception of the flu vaccine is that it is most necessary for the very young and the very old, so college age kids are in the least need for it health-wise,” said Christina C. Royce ’06. “I don’t know that many people who got the flu vaccine.”

There is a bit of room for doubt, though. “Naturally, MIT students stress a lot, don’t sleep well, and that makes for weak immune systems and sick people,” says Kelly L. Cavazos ’07.

“Most college students won’t get it anyways, but if someone does get it, it will probably spread pretty quickly because of close living conditions,” said Meghna S. Trivedi ’06.

Shortage is nationwide

The shortage is a result of the contamination of production lines at Chiron Corporation in Liverpool, England. The company was expected to supply 44 million of the 100 million total doses wanted by the United States this year, according to The Boston Globe. The other 56 million doses are coming from Aventis Pasteur.

Hospitals and other public health centers will be giving to high-risk groups, according to the CDC Web site. The CDC recommends frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with symptomatic people, covering your mouth when coughing, and staying home when sick as some ways to prevent contracting or spreading the disease.

The flu is caused by the highly contagious influenza virus, which infects the respiratory system and is passed by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include a fever, headache, severe muscle aches, general weakness and fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, and runny nose.

The CDC recommends bed rest, drinking a lot of fluids, and taking non-aspirin pain relievers as treatment, though professional medical treatment should be sought if symptoms worsen. There are several antiviral drugs that have been approved and are available to treat influenza.

More information about flu symptoms and treatments can be found on the CDC’s Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.