September 15, 2009

High risk

As you may know, I am badly germophobic and prone to panic during public health scares. So I was relieved to learn that the swine flu vaccine will be ready for distribution in October.

Then I read that only individuals in "high risk" groups will get vaccinated before flu season begins. These groups include: "pregnant women, people under 24 years old or caring for infants, people with high-risk medical conditions and health-care workers."

But the government does not realize that grad students are a high risk group. We don't get enough sleep, and stress wears down our immune systems. Then sick undergrads talk to us and breathe on us and hand us papers that they have touched. I mean they may as well sneeze into my nostrils.

I instruct my students to stay home when they are sick, but my wide-eyed overachievers are convinced that if they skip one class, they will miss some crucial piece of information, get an A-minus on the exam, and get rejected from Harvard Law School, disappointing everyone who ever loved them. I tell them that when I was in college, I skipped class when I was mildly hungover, and I still grew up to be a teaching assistant. But they won't listen -- they drag their dizzy, feverish selves to my class and then lean in close to whisper that they might leave early if they have to vomit.

So the government should not think of me as a "healthy 25 year old" but as a highly vulnerable individual who will be exposed to countless terrible infections, four days per week, for the duration of the academic year. If anyone needs protection from the heinous pig flu, it's me.


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