Southwestern Michigan College vaccinated 104 students and employees against influenza at three free clinics recently.
SMC, which won Michigan’s 2018 small-school trophy, is one of 32 schools from 15 states in the sixth annual National Alana N. Yaksich College/University Flu Vaccination Challenge. Winners will be announced Dec. 11.
Alana was a 5 1/2-year-old Michigan girl who spent Feb. 1, 2003, watching movies, eating sundaes and playing with her parents and brothers. That evening, she developed a 106-degree fever and was rushed to the emergency room. Within hours of arriving at the hospital, Alana died of flu-related complications that caused swelling and brain injury. She had not been vaccinated.
In 2009, Alana’s West Bloomfield family established a non-profit foundation dedicated to educating people about the severity of influenza and the importance of vaccinating children against the flu every year.
In 2014, Alana’s Foundation partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the inaugural College and University Flu Vaccination Challenge to increase flu vaccination rates among Michigan college students, since health is vital to academic success. The program expanded in 2017 to include schools across the nation for the inaugural Alana Yaksich National College/University Flu Vaccination Challenge.
Vaccine is the number-one way to prevent flu, yet national estimates continue to show overall U.S. vaccination coverage remains flat. As in previous years, less than half of the U.S. population is vaccinated.
Last flu season alone, an estimated 80,000 people died from a vaccine-preventable contagious respiratory disease. Flu seasons typically peak between December and February. It takes about two weeks after the vaccine is administered for the body to build immunity.
Last year’s flu season was the longest in a decade, lasting 21 weeks. Adult flu vaccination coverage, 45.3 percent, increased 8.2 percentage points from the previous flu season. Children 6 months-17 years increased 4.7 percentage points to 62.6 percent coverage.
“I am amazed how colleges/universities have embraced this challenge and really made a difference in the yearly effort to increase vaccination rates among the vulnerable student population and their community,” Zachary Yaksich, Alana’s Foundation founder and director said.
"We are always looking for ways to help our students be successful," First Year Experience Manager Katie Hannah said. "By bringing free flu shots to campus, we hope more students stay healthy through finals week, into the holidays and can start next semester strong."