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Herd Immunity: When being a ‘sheep’ is a good thing

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Olivia Reid
Student waits in UHS to be seen. Photo by Olivia Reid/ Photography Editor.

The start of the semester is uniting students once again. As we all flock back to campus, starting up classes, clubs and study sessions, it’s important to keep the spread of illnesses in mind. While it may not seem to be a huge issue right now, college campuses are like giant petri dishes for disease.

It’s less of an issue in the summertime; everybody’s outside with plenty of room to breathe. Once winter hits, the viruses come back hard. Frequency of illness is bound to increase as the number of people in close proximity increases. Get ready to be exposed at work, during your commute and on campus. Without a proper defense, your classmate’s cough may become the entire room’s problem.

While many people have cast the risk of COVID-19 to the side, it’s still an issue, and it isn’t the only disease you’re at risk of contracting. It’s important to watch out for influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, which are a large threat to immunocompromised individuals, children and older people. These illnesses are bothersome at best, and debilitating at their worst. Remember: Sufferance is subjective, and it is impossible to gauge the impact a disease can have on somebody other than yourself.

Masks are a good way to protect yourself; however, I think many of us enjoy their absence too much for this to be much of a consideration. Additionally, there are many instances where a mask becomes difficult or impossible for some to use, such as when eating or exercising. While I believe masks are not the best option to protect yourself against sickness, I do think they should be used when exhibiting symptoms. Maybe you just have a runny nose or a scratchy throat, but if missing class is not an option, masking up helps prevent the spread of those symptoms.

A better overall form of protection is herd immunity. You’ve likely heard the term before, especially with the pandemic everybody wants to forget. Herd immunity is one of the best defenses a college campus has against illnesses. If enough people in the school cannot get sick or only suffer from reduced symptoms, it is harder for an illness to spread. Herd immunity is developed through contact with the disease in question as the body develops antibodies. This can be done either through natural exposure or vaccinations. The second option is more favorable, as vaccinations do not cause the patient to develop symptoms of the disease, while natural exposure would.

Many people are concerned with the idea that the flu vaccine will make you sick, and I used to think the same thing. Luckily, the flu vaccine is very unlikely to give you the flu. According to the CDC, a traditional, needle vaccination will be made with either an inactive, dead virus or from proteins of the virus. [1] As it is not made with an active strain of the virus, it is near impossible for the vaccine itself to give you the flu. Nasal sprays are made with a live but weakened flu virus that “cannot reproduce in the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist,” according to the CDC’s website [1].

Anyone claiming they got sick with the flu from the flu vaccine has fallen victim to fallacy, and a very easy mistake to make. If you develop an illness directly after being administered a shot to prevent said illness, it does seem as though the shot was the cause. However, correlation does not equal causation–an age-old phrase I’m sure many of you have heard. Falling ill with the flu is usually coincidental, perhaps because someone in the hospital was sick or just from general exposure. This is especially true if you wait for your vaccination. Notice how the number of people “getting sick from the flu shot” will increase if they are administered the shot closer to flu season.

Additionally, it takes approximately two weeks for your body to develop antibodies to the flu virus in the vaccination, according to the CDC [1]. This means you are susceptible to infection, without the benefits of at least a weakened response, for two weeks following your vaccination date. This is why it’s a good idea to get your flu shot as soon as possible.

If you have no religious or medical reasons not to receive these vaccinations, then go for it! You’re protecting those around you who have weaker defenses against these diseases. Flu shots are available for free at a variety of locations. Star Market, Walgreens, Rite Aid and University Health Services all offer flu shot services. To book an appointment through UHS, log into your My Health Beacon Portal or visit the “Seasonal Flu” section on UMass Boston’s website. Students will even get a 10 percent off coupon for a grocery purchase at Star Market with their vaccination.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm

About the Contributor
Olivia Reid, Photo Editor