This morning, we can all take a moment to acknowledge that immunizations are, truly, the least sexy (read: interesting) of all health topics. But as it is with so many things in life, the least interesting can often be the most important. Immunizations also fall into that category of thing that you don’t need until you actually need them. On a related note, how old are you? Somewhere between 17 and 22? It’s a trick question because the UNC’s Office of Institutional Research tells me that there’s a 94% probability that you fall into that age range (the house always wins)*. What a great time in your life. What a great time to get immunized, that is.
You’re at UNC, which means that you’ve got proof of your required immunizations (DTP, Polio, MMR, Hep B)**, North Carolina state laws mean business (Thanks, Campus Health Immunization Services!). But just because immunizations are not required doesn’t mean they’re not useful. In fact, there’s a host of things you can immunized for right now, thanks to the immunization team at Campus Health Services. Immunizations are health choices and, as such, personal, but like all personal choices, it helps to know what’s out there (knowledge = power, etc.). Which is where this post comes in.
I was curious about non-required immunizations, so I walked over to Immunization Services (they’re great!) and got a wealth of knowledge on immunization options. There are two particular vaccines, not required by NC law/UNC policy, but available for your health-choice-making.
For the typical college student, the HPV (or, Human Papillomavirus) vaccine is usually the first that comes up when conversation turns to non-required vaccinations (you know how it is). The basics are these, HPV is a common virus in the US, most sexually active men and women become infected at some time in their lives (at about 14 million people a year, it’s nothing to sneeze at, numbers-wise). But those sexually active men and women (HPV is usually transmitted by sexual contact) generally won’t be aware of the infection, because infections often don’t cause any health problems and go away on their own. But HPV is a tricky virus, if it doesn’t clear, it can also cause a few different types of cancers in men and women (cervical cancer is a particularly deadly one for women, often caused by HPV). And here’s the punchline: getting the HPV vaccine before being exposed to HPV can prevent a lot of the cancer types by side-stepping the virus all together, everyone wins (except cancer).
Next up, Meningococcal Vaccine: a vaccine that runs counter to a disease called N. Meningitidis, or what is more commonly referred to as meningococcal disease. Though uncommon, meningococcal disease can get serious very quickly, has a high mortality rate, and can be difficult to identify by its early, flu-like symptoms. It’s an especially good thing to pay attention to as college students, because actual outbreaks on college campus, though rare, do happen (Princeton, last March; UCSB, last November). College students are more susceptible because they often live and work in close proximity to each other – The CDC helpfully recommends vaccination if “you are a college freshmen living in a dormitory” (CDC Website, under “As an adult…”).
Where do we go from here? Well, now you have the component parts for healthy decision-making – most health choices usually go something like:
1. Researching – you have access to a lot of the vital information through the links and through the CDC’s online fact sheets. Plus, immunization services are happy to answer any questions you can come up with.
2. Decision-making (“Sounds like a good thing for me”)
3. Appointment-setting online at healthyheels.unc.edu (appointment type: immunizations) or by making an appointment with Campus Health Services (Steps 3+ are, by definition, conditional on Step 2).
4. Immunizing (in person at Campus Health Services)
5. Receive lollipop***
* Undergraduates only. Graduate students, I promise that you’re important also.
** Perhaps you remember this form?
*** Can’t promise.