Among all the tasks charged to a first-year student at Ohio State, it was specifically recommended to Travis Long that he do one thing: Get fully vaccinated.
Long, now a second-year in business administration, said he identifies politically as an independent, and this decision to not get vaccinated was based on personal research and uneasiness with federal oversight of vaccinations.
“I think anything that is government-regulated across the country, requiring somebody to get injected with something when we, majority of the time, don’t know what’s in it, poses a lot of problems,” Long said. “My family and I were never fond of government-regulated vaccinations … We didn’t see that as something that we were comfortable with.”
This outlook echoes findings of a new study co-authored by Kent Schwirian, professor emeritus in the Ohio State Department of Sociology, which shows a correlation between one’s willingness to get vaccinated and his or her confidence in government.
The study looked at the U.S. public’s willingness to get vaccinated for the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, during the 2009 and 2010 pandemic.
“What we found, in general, was that the Republicans were much less willing to go after the vaccine than the Democrats, but that independents were about as willing as Republicans,” Schwirian said.
However, the willingness to get vaccinated did not fall strictly on partisan lines, nor was it fueled simply by party affiliation.
Most Republicans and independents were less likely to get vaccinated, the study said, because of a lack of confidence in government to handle the outbreak, and most Democrats were more likely to get vaccinated because of a greater confidence in government to handle the outbreak.
The study drew from an October 2009 Pew Research Center survey. Controlling for various demographic variables, results showed a clear split: approximately 43 percent of Republicans and independents were willing to be vaccinated, with 63.7 percent of Democrats willing.
“You always have politics in illness,” Schwirian said.
Schwirian and his colleague, Gustavo Mesch, an OSU alumnus and professor of sociology and dean of the faculty of social sciences at Israel’s University of Haifa, began research in 2009, at the onset of the outbreak, he said.
“With all these ailment problems that go around, all this disease, there are always political and sociological aspects to them,” he said. “When this broke out, it was a very natural thing for us to study.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the 2009-10 H1N1 pandemic consisted of approximately 60.8 million cases, resulting in about 12,270 deaths in the U.S. from April 2009 to March 2010, according to the CDC website.
Vincent Hayden, executive director of the College Democrats and a fourth-year in political science, said that he thinks the conclusion of the study makes sense.
“The Democrats I talk to are disappointed in government because it doesn’t go far enough,” Hayden said. “The government is good. It’s a force of good in people’s lives … Be skeptical, but also open to ideas proposed by the government or scientific figures.”
Zachary Pohl, chairman of the College Republicans and a fourth-year in logistics management, said he felt the study’s findings were sensible as well, but didn’t directly apply to him.
“I wasn’t vaccinated, but it wasn’t because I didn’t believe in the government’s ability to make a vaccine — I just didn’t do it,” Pohl said of the H1N1 vaccination.
Schwirian said a segment of the population deciding not to participate in any vaccination programs raises a major public-health issue, and that it shows, to some extent, in a current measles outbreak.
“This becomes a real problem because for some of these diseases, you can’t get them under control unless you get very high participation,” he said. “Measles is one of the most infectious of all diseases.”
There have been 121 measles cases reported from Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, spanning 17 states and Washington, D.C., with 103 cases being linked to the current measles outbreak, according to the CDC website, last updated Monday, as well as 644 cases reported in 2014 in 27 states.
Pohl said he attended public school, and like many of his schoolmates, he was vaccinated for measles at an early age. He added that one day he would likely want his own children to get vaccinated for the disease.
“I believe that one of government’s main roles is maintaining the welfare of its citizens and society, so therefore I believe that government does play a role in vaccinations because they lessen the impact or the chances of disease or viral outbreaks like H1N1 or measles,” Pohl said.
Long said he received several vaccinations when he was younger, but that he and his family “were not knowledgeable of the contents, and our decision (to stop vaccinating) was solidified when we did our own personal research.”
Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said a vaccination campaign is promoted throughout the year by Student Health Services and vaccinations are available at the Wilce Student Health Center.
“The health of all members of the Buckeye community is important to the university,” Isaacs said. “We believe that a well immunized population is the most effective deterrent to the spread of a number of diseases.
“Vaccines work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease and to reduce your chances of getting certain diseases and suffering from their complications.”
OSU recommends students receive 10 vaccinations, including the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, according to the Student Health Services website. Recommendations are in accordance with the CDC and the American College Health Association guidelines.