Tensae Andargachew (ME ‘15)
On Monday, November 12, 2012, the Cooper Union offered students, faculty, and a staff a free flu vaccination, attempting to entice the community with a chance at winning an Amazon gift card and the opportunity to throw a pie at Dean Wolf’s face. Although the latter was only allowed should 60% of the Cooper population get vaccinated, which we failed to accomplish, an estimated 230 people (roughly 25% of the school) got the flu shot that day. An additional 70 people had also received a flu shot, either from Cooper’s October flu shot program, or from CVS, Walgreens, or their family doctor, meaning that for all intents and purposes approximately 30% of the school has received the 2012 vaccine.
What does this mean for the Cooper community? For starters, almost 1 in 3 people we meet in the halls, on the staircases or in the Foundation Building will have been vaccinated. So suppose there was an outbreak of the flu in the school. Dean Wolf provided a computer simulation, written by Shane Killian and modified by Robert Webb, whose work has been featured in PC Plus Magazine, written to mathematically model what might happen in the case of an outbreak. I ran a simulation with 30% of the population inoculated, to see a possible outcome:
At the end of this simulation, 99.63% of the people who were not vaccinated got the flu, while 50.58% of the people who were inocculated got the flu. Of course, this is a very general stochastic mathematical model, which may not be the most accurate model of what might happen to our instituition, should there be an outbreak. The model assumes a population of 800 while our population is closer to 1100. This model also seems to assume complete and total interaction of the population, which is not necessarily what happens to the extent the model presumes.
Moreover, the model also seems to assume that the people who are vaccinated are randomly dispersed throughout the population. However, the data suggests otherwise – 22% of the students of the School of Engineering received the vaccination, while 18% of the students from the School of Art and 20% from the School of Architecture did.
This model may well be a best case scenario for the school, which should be a very sobering fact. Had 80% been inoculated, we would have reached “herd inoculation” which would have protected almost all of us.
However, there is one thing that this simulation does tell us which is unfortunately even more dour – the flu virus is an incredibly contagious disease.
This year’s vaccination tackles three different strains of the virus – one influenza A H3N2 virus, one influenza A H1N1 virus (swine flu) and one influenza B virus.
All three are particularly nasty and someone getting one of these during the school year, introducing it into the school would not bode well for many of us. Many people don’t appreciate the difference between the common cold and the flu. Flu symptoms are often much worse, and can last for up to two weeks.
There is however at least one good thing that did come of this: those who were vaccinated have a reduced chance of getting the flu, as will the people they associated with, according to some studies. Also, if you are vaccinated, and still get the flu, your symptoms are likely to be less severe. Still, despite the extended hours for getting a flu shot and the relative ease of getting a shot – at best roughly 30% of the school is vaccinated. What might be attributed to the low turnout?
One possibility is that the hours did not work for all students. And while it is true that the School of Art, School of Engineering and School of Architecture have different hours, it seems unlikely that ten minutes could not be spared by more people. Dean Wolf believes that, in part, the low turnout was due to some misconceptions that students have about the vaccination itself.
As he went around the school on Monday night, advocating all get the flu shot, he had encountered some students who believed that because they ate healthy and exercised regularly, the flu shot was not necessary. Some believed myths about the flu shot – such as that it gave Alzheimer’s or autism. None of that is supported by medical science, for the record.
There is another possibility, and it is the case with so many other times in life – people figured that “everyone else will do what needs to be done (get a flu shot), so I don’t need to. But failing to get a flu shot because you believe others will is free riding on the sanitary responsibility of others.”
The numbers from this round of flu vaccinations at Cooper do not indicate that to be a safe bet at all. The safest, and wisest, thing to do is to get the shot because you will be protecting your health and the health of others.