The OUSA programme to provide free flu vaccinations to students will be offering a mere 150 shots to the 20,000 students enrolled at Otago University. OUSA has negotiated with Student Health Services to provide 150 free flu vaccinations to students for two hours on Thursday 26 of May, with a location yet to be confirmed.
The provision of free flu vaccinations was a key election promise of Laura Harris who was successful in her campaign for OUSA President last year. However, some students are questioning the validity of Harris’ commitment to her election promise, considering only 0.7 percent of students are set to receive the no-cost vaccinations.
However, both OUSA and Student Health Services have stressed that this year’s programme will be a “pilot” to gauge student interest. Katherine Martin, a Clinical Group Leader at Student Health Services, says the turnout of students will indicate whether the programme is feasible going forwards.
“We’ve got to start somewhere, and we did this in . They weren’t funded, but we provided a clinic at the University and we got 18 students that took the opportunity. They weren’t free, they were $18, but in two hours we had 18 students that actually took up the opportunity to have the flu [vaccination]. This year is a pilot, so if it is really successful we will be able to go from there,” says Ms Martin.
“[Continuation] depends on the response. It has to be cost effective for both the University, whether that’s OUSA or someone else, and it has to be cost effective for Student Health. If it’s a success, we will be really thrilled.”
OUSA President Laura Harris was unwilling to disclose the cost of the programme, however a vaccination through student health costs $20, which according to Katherine Martin covers only the cost of staff, the vaccine and storage.
The provision of free flu vaccinations to students has not yet been officially announced by OUSA, and it is unclear whether the programme will be advertised given the short time frame. According to Katherine Martin, the success of the programme is reliant on student participation, as well as student leaders promoting the service.
“We can offer a service but the success of it really depends on the whole community and the receivers being really enthusiastic, as well as student leaders being proactive.”
Providing students with free flu vaccinations has been provided by a number of other universities in New Zealand, generally receiving widespread interest from students. Last year the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association (VUWSA) provided 2700 free flu vaccinations to students. Victoria University does not limit how many flu vaccinations are offered, which last year cost $24,000.
The Director of Student Academic Services at Victoria University, Pam Thorburn says vaccinations are essential to preventing the spread of illness in the student population.
“Beyond the obvious health benefits of not catching the flu, being vaccinated means students are far less likely to lose valuable study time to illness, or to recover more quickly if they do get sick. Victoria University aims to provide a holistic learning environment for students, and good health services are an important part of that.”
The provision of flu shots widely is understood to decrease the spread of a virus within a community. A study conducted by the Ministry of Health suggests that if over 80 percent of community is vaccinated “Herd immunity” can be achieved, whereby the virus is unlikely to spread.
OUSA President Laura Harris was unwilling to comment.