Over the past week, the number of influenza cases on Kenyon’s campus has risen rapidly. Professors have reported decreased class attendance while many students recover from illness. Because of the sudden increase of flu cases on campus, the Cox Health and Counseling Center has reached full capacity and has had to put some students on waitlists for appointments.
Several contributing factors exacerbated the outbreak, most notably the low effectiveness of this year’s influenza vaccine. “This [low efficacy] suggests that there was a mismatch between the strains of virus in the vaccine and what’s circulating,” said Former Chief Scientist at the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Jesse L. Goodman. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of more than 3,600 Americans in seven states, the 2021-22 vaccine was only about 16% effective, a figure deemed insignificant. “Influenza vaccination did not reduce the risk for outpatient medically attended illness with influenza,” the report said.
Since the CDC has recorded flu vaccine effectiveness, rates have reached as high as 60% for the 2010-11 season and as low as 10% in the 2004-5 season. The CDC has found that flu vaccines have an average efficacy rate of about 40% since 2004. Although ineffective at preventing infection, the CDC continues to recommend individuals receive the vaccine and says that it may help limit the severity of cases.
In the same report, the CDC noted low rates of influenza for the period between December of 2021 and January of 2022 during the omicron variant’s peak. However, rates rose this February and remained high into March. This follows earlier trends documented by the CDC that showed the 2020-21 flu season as unusually benign and attributed this to COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
“Our current rise in cases is similar in comparison to pre-COVID spring increases in upper respiratory illness,” Senior Director of Wellness Christopher Smith noted in an email to the Collegian.
Smith also conveyed his concern for sick students and recommended that those feeling sick should pick up a rapid COVID-19 test from the Mailroom, avoid gatherings, notify appropriate faculty and schedule an appointment with Health Services or Knox County Health, which can conduct strep and flu rapid tests. He also suggested that students who aren’t feeling well wear a mask in order to prevent further viral spread.
For remaining healthy, Smith recommends staying up to date on vaccinations, following proper hygiene guidance, eating healthy, exercising regularly and getting at least seven hours of sleep every night.