Although not as harsh as the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones” portrays it, winter is coming for all inhabitants of the western hemisphere. Whereas white walkers (zombies) and dragons characterize the fictional one, real-life winter plans on storming us with…you guessed it…the flu.
Though not as intimidating as the cold “long night” — can range from a few months to a couple of years — in the show, the flu or influenza killed around 50 million people during its heyday between January 1918 and December 1920 according to a 1997 Stanford University study. Ph.D. and medical author Charles Patrick writes that the first approved vaccine against the disease was developed in the late ‘40s.
This vaccine was later used during the Second World War by the U.S Military. New shots were developed afterward, and today the World Health Organization estimates the number of influenza-caused deaths has been reduced to 650,000 per year.
Resembling the night’s watch from Game of Thrones, The American University of Bulgaria offers its services as a line of defense. Following the annual flu vaccination campaign, AUBG Daily sought insight from the Health Center Director Dr. Ventsislav Daskalov.
Dr. Daskalov, when did on-campus vaccination first become an option here at AUBG, and do you deem this year’s campaign successful?
It was a long time ago. We have been doing this for decades; almost from the very first moment when the flu vaccine became available on the Bulgarian pharmaceutical market. This year’s campaign was average, I would like to see more people participate.
When it comes to accessibility, who does the campaign target, and when does it usually take place?
The campaign targets all AUBG community members. We work and live in crowded spaces, and we are constantly in contact with each other. This means that there is a high risk of the virus spreading among the whole community, especially during the flu season. That is why vaccination is a good idea for everybody, especially those with chronic diseases and immune deficiency conditions [to help with herd immunity, as they can’t always get vaccines themselves]. I would strongly advise anyone who is contemplating whether to get shot or not to consult me or their personal physician.
To those petrified of needles, what does the vaccination process actually entail, and are there any specific side effects?
We cannot avoid needles, but I can honestly say that it is almost painless. The fact that I have immunized small kids in my practice shows that the amount of pain should not even be taken into consideration. When it comes to side effects, pain near the spot where the patient got shot for about a day and a half is as far as it goes. As long as the patient did not have any troublesome experiences with vaccines in the past, which me or my team were not informed beforehand about, everything is more or less bound to run smoothly.
As a specialist, why do you think immunization is important, and do you think that your opinion corresponds with that of most people?
In regards to the second half of the question, I think that the fact that less than one percent of Bulgarians get vaccinated during the flu season is evidence for itself. Moreover, the World Health Organization’s advice against a possible outbreak of the disease is that between seven to ten percent of a country’s population ought to get vaccinated. Sadly, this shows that Bulgaria is around ten times behind worldwide health standards.
What is your message to those still reluctant to get a shot?
Giving a personal example is probably not the best of ideas, but I have been protecting myself annually against the flu with this vaccine for more than 25 years now. As a doctor I had contact with many sick people during that time but not once did I have to take sick leave. It is the same with all the nurses and the health center’s staff in general. It is certain – inoculation protects.
Finally, Dr. Daskalov, are there any other health-related projects organized at AUBG that our readers would be interested in learning about?
First aid education is very important for me as it has the ability to save lives in case of need. Our priority is to keep the health education programs in line with the interests of the students. We spread information about sexually transmitted diseases, viral diseases, etc.. We are trying to be flexible, and we are open to suggestions. If there are students who are interested in learning more about a particular topic, we would gladly provide the knowledge and the training that we have.
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