By: Paul Choptuik, Coordinating News Editor
Ajit Johal, a clinical instructor at UBC’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and owner of immunize.io and TravelRx, gave a presentation to the SFSS Board of Directors on vaccines at the June 27 meeting. Johal has had previous experience working with Sylvia Ceacero, SFSS executive director, on advocating for vaccinations for seniors.
With the overall goal of raising awareness and potentially bringing mobile vaccination services to SFU, Johal detailed which preventable diseases university students may be at risk of contracting, which vaccines are publicly funded, and which ones are not.
Highlighting the resurgence of measles, the risk of meningitis on university campuses, and the risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis and traveler’s diarrhea abroad, Johal illustrated the particular dangers to students.
Noting the gaps that some students may have in their vaccination history, or a lack of records making it unclear, Johal pointed out that the SFU Student Drug Benefit Plan allows for $150 per year for vaccine coverage.
“That’s coverage on the table that you could utilize to access protection for vaccine preventable diseases,” Johal added.
Johal also noted that, board willing, there could be opportunities for students, especially those in the health sciences, to collaborate on an awareness program or even help in a mobile clinic.
“Health sciences, it would be good to collaborate with them to design some educational material [ . . . ] we don’t want them giving people unsolicited medical advice, they could always shadow any of our healthcare professionals.
“They can certainly help people with intake forms.”
Concluding his presentation, Johal stated his desire to work with the SFSS in particular to create a “healthy campus.”
“We are looking to work with the [SFU] Student Society to provide education, awareness of these diseases, working to create onsite clinics, run programs, partner with health science students, partner with other disciplines in healthcare,” Johal elaborated.
After the presentation, the board asked a number of questions.
Nick Chubb, applied sciences representative, asked whether Johal would need money from the SFSS. Johal clarified that he was not looking for money, just support.
“It would be good to have health science students volunteering,” Johal reiterated.
“It’s not just pushing people to get vaccinated, we also want information too. So even if people just want to have a conversation, they want to ask questions, they have access to that too.”
Tawanda Chitapi, vice-president finance, asked Johal what the best way of raising awareness was in his experience, with Johal responding that he has found word of mouth to be the most effective.
“Students will talk to one another like, ‘Hey, I just got this vaccine, it was super easy. I just went to this place at this time,’ and that’s what happened with workplace staff. That’s how we drove up immunization rates.”
Christina Loutsik, vice-president student services, asked what resources could be distributed and about human papillomavirus (HPV), which had not talked about in the presentation.
Johal thanked Loutsik for the question, telling board about the World Health Organization’s (WHO) campaign to end HPV causing cervical cancer. He added that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization wanted people, regardless of age, to be immunized.
“There is a catch-up program for those born in 1994 or later, those born before, it would be a private vaccine,” Johal added.
Shina Kaur, vice-president university relations, inquired about international students who may not have attended high school in Canada and received the same vaccines.
“International students, they get caught up on everything. What the health units do for them is they just immunize based on history, it’s a blank canvas and they update everything, unless they can produce records,” Johal responded.
Concluding the discussion, Ceacero suggested a small working group could be formed to explore this partnership.
“If the board is agreeable, Ajit and I will connect again, and involve Christina, and involve other board members who are in health sciences and we can have a little working group to figure out how to move ahead with this, I think it could be very beneficial to our students.”