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If you had any doubt that the flu is a serious disease, consider this. Last winter, some 80,000 people died from the flu and its complications. Yet fewer than half of Americans get vaccinated each year. And NPR's Allison Aubrey found a place where vaccination rates are often lower - college campuses.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It's not a surprise when young adults think they're invincible. And when it comes to the flu shot, survey data backs this up. I talked to students at George Washington University.
I just want to ask you guys if you've had the flu shot this year.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Not yet.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Nah, I just didn't get it. I'll go get it.
AUBREY: How about you, flu shot - yay or nay?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I don't think I've gotten it, no.
AUBREY: Survey data shows one of the top reasons young adults opt out - they say they're healthy. They don't think they'll get the flu. Jack Gross (ph) and Eddie Rosku (ph) say they've heard this.
JACK GROSS: Yeah, I think that's definitely a thing. People really don't get it because they don't see a need for it.
EDDIE ROSKU: So they're like, oh, I haven't gotten it before, so I don't, like, need to get the flu shot.
AUBREY: Another obstacle - getting the flu shot can be a hassle. Miles Kalechian (ph) and Christian Joins (ph) say it's just not top of mind.
MILES KALECHIAN: Like, if you have class and work that you're going to, you know, I feel like flu shot's not very high on the list of priorities.
CHRISTIAN JOINS: Yeah. It'll take up a huge portion of their day in trying to get it.
AUBREY: These students say they plan to get a flu shot, if they haven't already. And one factor that may motivate them is last winter's death toll. With 80,000 flu-related deaths, it was the highest death toll in more than 40 years. And hundreds of thousands of people were hospitalized. William Schaffner is medical director at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, it was an extraordinary season. And we had a very vicious virus, the so-called H3N2 influenza strain.
AUBREY: Schaffner says it's too soon to say if this will be a severe flu season. But he says that's no reason to wait to get vaccinated. Schaffner says it's true that people 65 and older are at higher risk, but he says young adults are vulnerable, too.
SCHAFFNER: The flu can even, on occasion, take a young, healthy person and put them in the intensive care unit in 48 hours. We can't pick you out in advance, so let's all get protected.
AUBREY: On the George Washington campus, the student health center is going all out to get students vaccinated. Isabel Goldenberg is the medical director. She's organized pop-up clinics in students' favorite hangout spots.
ISABEL GOLDENBERG: We don't wait for them to come to us.
AUBREY: Today she's giving shots in the library. Peter Opitz (ph), a freshman, walks in.
PETER OPITZ: I definitely am not a big fan of needles. But you know, sickness can spread really fast on campus, and I just wanted to prevent, you know, myself from getting sick and from anyone else that I'm around.
GOLDENBERG: Peter, what arm do you want - right or left? Left?
OPITZ: Left, please.
GOLDENBERG: OK. This is a painless shot, I promise. One, two, three - in and you are done.
AUBREY: After such a bad flu season last year, many people know the vaccine is not a hundred percent effective. But what many people don't realize is if you get the flu shot and still end up catching the virus, your sickness is likely to be significantly less severe. Student Max Webb (ph) says he'll take some protection over no protection.
MAX WEBB: I've had the flu, which was horrible. And so after that experience, I don't see a reason why even risk it without getting the vaccine. Webb says he thinks one way to motivate young people to get the flu shot would be a social media campaign where people share their flu stories. I asked him what he'd call the campaign.
WEBB: "Say Boo To The Flu" - I don't know.
AUBREY: That's good. You just came up with that now, huh?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I like that. I like "Say Boo To The Flu."
AUBREY: It's got a good ring, and maybe it's a reminder to get the shot before Halloween.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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