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International students ask: "Do I need a flu shot?"
As a new international student from Germany, now at Hamline University in St. Paul, Raphael Schaefer is not used to Minnesota's unsettled weather. One of the first things locals told him was, "Welcome to Minnesota! If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes!" With the unpredictable changes from sunny to rainy and warm to cold, staying healthy soon became a real challenge.
The Centers for Disease Control advise:
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine as soon as vaccine is available this fall. While flu is unpredictable, it’s likely that 2009 H1N1 viruses and regular seasonal viruses will cause illness in the U.S. this flu season. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.
"I wake up to this really beautiful, sunny weather and only two hours later it's freezing outside," said Schaefer. "I didn't expect it to be so much different from home. I already fear the infamous Minnesotan winter everyone is talking about."
With the upcoming flu season, international students need to be informed and to decide whether to take the flu shot or not.
"I had the impression everyone was talking about the shot when I came here," said Schaefer. "I have never taken a flu shot in Germany but people here are recommending it. I don't know. Do I have to take one?" [Audio of interview at end of article.]
Barbara Bester, the staff nurse at Hamline's Health Services, responds with a clear: "Yes, indeed." According to her, "It's more than important for all students to take the flu shot, but especially international students. Obviously they tend to travel more and this may raise their rate of exposure."
At the University of St. Thomas, the vaccination will be available within the next couple of weeks.
"We are already informing our students about the flu season and vaccination," said Beth Cotton, a registered nurse at St. Thomas, "through flyers on campus, notices and e-mail because we think it's absolutely necessary."
University of Minnesota students already can sign up for an appointment online. The Boynton Health Service emphasizes the necessity of flu shots since "by getting your flu vaccine you're not just protecting yourself, you're also helping stop the spread of flu around campus. Do it for the herd!"
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), everyone should consider taking the flu shot. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk: children younger than five, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and people who have medical conditions.
According to the MDH, there were almost 2000 people hospitalized with H1N1 flu in Minnesota during last year's flu wave and among them 63 deaths. And H1N1 is not the only danger-all sorts of influenza can kill. This year's vaccine formula includes the H1N1 vaccine.
"The risk in taking the vaccine is rather insignificant," said a pharmacist at a St Paul CVS store. "In comparison to the flu itself, it's peanuts."
Bester confirms this statement, saying that, "We didn't see a lot of problems with the vaccines last year, either the H1N1 or the regular flu vaccine. I have not heard anything from public health that there have been more side effects because the vaccine has already been used for the last couple of weeks."
Where to get the flu shot
Most local pharmacies have already started giving the vaccine or will do so in the next couple of days. The easiest way to find the next flu clinic or store that provides the flu shot is to go online. Almost all of them provide a special locator, telling you where to go and when to get it:Walmart Pharmacy
According to local pharmacies and Cub Food stores, many insurance companies will cover the cost of the vaccination. However, it is best to check beforehand if you are concerned about insurance coverage. Prices will vary from $25 to $30 for people without insurance coverage.
Universities around the Twin Cities make special offers for their students. Hamline University and the University of St. Thomas, for instance, charge students $20, if they do not have insurance coverage. At the University of Minnesota, flu vaccination is provided at no out-of-pocket cost to students, faculty, staff, retired faculty/staff, or a dependent of one of these groups.
The flu season is not a national but rather an international issue. Flu shots are commonly recommended in order to avoid the dissemination of the disease.
Considering this issue from the Universities' perspective, Bester pointed out: "I don't think it depends on Minnesota. I really think it's an international issue but I certainly urge any student who is going to travel to have it." She advises students to take the flu shots and especially international students since "the last thing you want to do is be sick when you're away from home."
©2010 Eliana Gramer and Larissa Peifer