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UNC takes the lead in a nationwide flu vaccination competition

UNC is beating North Carolina State University — not in football or basketball, but in flu vaccinations. Both schools are competing to vaccinate the most people by Dec. 7 in a nationwide competition run by Alana’s Foundation.

Alana’s Foundation was founded in 2009 with the mission of increasing influenza vaccination rates by educating the public and increasing the affordability of annual flu shots. 

Alana’s Foundation targets college students with its vaccination competition because they believe instilling college students — "the caretakers of tomorrow" — with annual vaccinations as an important and impactful habit.

The foundation also works to financially support families who have lost a child. 

The foundation was founded in honor of Alana Yaksich, who passed away at the age of five after contracting the flu. 

The day Alana fell ill, she displayed no signs of illness until she woke up after a nap with a fever of 106. Her father rushed her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with the flu. Alana later passed away in the hospital.

“She did not look like she was ill," said JoAnna Yaksich, Alana’s aunt and founding board member of the foundation. "It was very hard to wrap your head around as you stood in a world-class medical facility, hearing that she’s not going to make it, and it was because of influenza. The hardest part was that it is a vaccine-preventable disease, which is why we do what we do. We felt the need to go out and educate the community about influenza as we needed to be educated.”

As of Friday, UNC led the mid-sized school division, almost tripling N.C. State’s count with 1,547 vaccinations logged. The national winner will receive a trophy from Alana’s Foundation. The health center staff of the losing school, between UNC and N.C. State, will have to don the other school’s colors for a day. 

To participate, all you have to do is get vaccinated and fill out a form.

“We’re having everyone in our University community, now through Dec. 7, report that they’re affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill and they got the flu vaccine,” says Amy Sauls, director of Pharmacy and Professional Services at campus health. 

Any member of the UNC community — students, staff, faculty or even people who live in the larger Chapel Hill community — can help boost UNC to the win. 

“The survey is very quick, less than 20 seconds to fill out,” Sauls said. “No identifying information is required.”

For people wary of vaccines, Sauls has some reassurances.

“The flu shot is an inactivated virus. It will not make you sick with the flu,” Sauls said. “Sometimes people are extra sensitive to their immune system reacting to the shot, but it’s not the flu that they’re getting. The vaccines that we give today are much more refined than the vaccines we had even 20, 30 years ago. They’re really better products than we’ve ever had." 

In fact, flu shots don’t just save lives. They can save time, too. 

“The flu, rarely, but certainly in the case of Alana, can be deadly,” Sauls said. “We certainly don’t want anyone to get seriously ill from the flu. But even if you don’t get seriously ill, students in particular should think about if they can afford to miss seven to 10 days of class.”

Michelle Camarena, assistant director of Nursing and co-chairperson of Infection Control at UNC Campus Health, said the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent influenza, and it’s very accessible.

“You can certainly get (the vaccine) at your visit, while you’re here. You can schedule with our immunization clinic for your flu shot online on our website or by calling. You can come by either the Campus Health pharmacy or the Student Store pharmacy and get vaccinated that way without an appointment,” Camarena said.

Campus Health offers the vaccine as a shot, but not as a mist. Camarena said Campus Health also has a Thimerosal-free vaccine available to ensure that even those with concerns regarding the preservative can get vaccinated. Most insurance providers cover the flu shot, but without insurance, the shot is $31. 

Sauls is optimistic UNC can keep its lead over the other schools and promote a healthier campus along the way.

“We just have to keep it up, make sure we don’t lose momentum,” Sauls said.

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