Saturday, 14 November 2009

A Voice from the Back of the Queue

As a healthy person over sixty five, I am at the lowest priority for an H!N1 flu shot in the ranking identified by Canada's Medical Officers of Health. A few days ago I read an op ed piece in our local paper honouring the veterans of WWII and the Korean war, and complaining that these seniors, who have deserved praise and service from their countrymen, are, many of them, also assigned to the end of the line. They deserve better of us and since, as frail seniors, they are more likely to die from flu if they contract it, the writer argued that they should receive the vaccine at the same priority as our serving soldiers. It was a nice thought, but I don't agree with it.

The H1N1 virus is doing some strange things. For most people, it acts like a normal flu but every once and a while it attacks so strongly that it kills adolescents and young people in a very short length of time. My daughter and her partner are mourning the death of a colleague on Wednesday, a fit and healthy man of thirty-eight who will be a great loss to his community and his young family. It is quite clear that no one can really predict whom this flu will hit and how hard.

The dead man's wife is a doctor; I am quite sure that she did all the right things to get him help when he became seriously ill but all of our very competent medical knowledge was not enough to save him. At almost the same time a friend of mine, of about my age, was admitted to hospital with serious heart arrhythmia. She was fitted with a pace -maker and is home again and feeling well. The young (to me, anyway) professor's death hit the front page of the paper; my friend's quick rescue and recovery is not news at all. I think that because we expect so much from our health care providers, and they so often deliver flawlessly, we are seriously frightened when they do not have instant and positive answers to a problem.

And so, we second guess them. Veterans should have the flu shot early and if they don't get it, cries of ageism are heard. People get frightened and are ill informed. They jump the queues and cause serious damage to the plan for vaccine delivery. They get angry. The press has lovely dramatic stories to tell and thus fan the flames. People make money standing in for others in the waiting lines. People behave badly, in short.

I have no problem with the priorities that have been established for delivery of the H1N1 shots. And I am saying that from the very end of the line. If it is a choice between immunizing me or immunizing my children and grandchildren, I am quite content to let them go first whether I have partial immunity from the 1957 version or whether I do not. From my limited perspective I can speculate that it might have been better to give the shot to children and young people in schools and universities, and to their teachers, at a higher priority, in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus through these dense populations and then home to their families. The argument has been that it is a hugely complicated and potentially unfair logistical problem to get the clinics to schools; if so, it is a problem that should be explored and a plan developed for future use. Equally, the problem of stopping people from ignoring the priority instructions and arriving at the clinics, thus clogging the system, should be solved.

But in the meantime, you will not find me in a H1N1 shot line-up until I am called and told that my turn has come. And I am perfectly happy to take my chances.

Even though the skin on my hands is all crackly from using hand sanitizer so much.


  1. I'm at the back with dry hands too. Of course, I'll happily wait my turn so the younger folk can have theirs.

  2. Siwne flu has already run piggelty wiggilty through my family. They all seemed to survive it with no difficulties. We're watching the two little ones with asthma closely, we're a little worried about that. So far they remain untouched. There still isn't any vaccine available in our area to form a queue for.

  3. I have 3 highriskers in the house and have yet to go because well the thoughts of standing in a line up with say 500people that may or may not already have the flu? doesn't appeal to me. Part of me thinks "well what if they get sick" can I live with myself for not doing anything but the other part of me wonders how will I feel about putting something basically untested into my kids system? too bad there isn't a RIGHT and Wrong answer right form the top?

  4. Its supposed to hit the young and vulnerable, isn't it?
    Sorry to hear about the doctor's husband succumbing to it.
    Very unpredictable virus and usually mild. Only the very frail or sick older people should get the jab.
    I am slightly worried that it hasn't been tested very long, anyway.

    Nuts in May

  5. They make hand sanitizer with moisurizing lotion now! And ya, I agree with you. I thought they hadn't established that this man you speak about even had the flu. I don't know anymore. The stories are fast and furious as are the rumours.

  6. I've had several of my high school students out with it already, as well as several colleagues. Two of my teacher friends are pregnant, and they both waffled about getting the vaccine. Ultimately, as the news of the deaths of pregnant women and very young children (both of them have other children under the age of 5 at home) began to increase, they found a source and both got the shot. It's easy for me to say what I *would* do, but I wonder if it would be different were I faced with the situation in reality.

  7. as of right now we're not planning on immunizing any of us, but reading everyone's thoughts on it is really interesting. I dunno. I do appreciate your viewpoint here about priorities.

    Gee, Mary, why do you have to be so reasonable all the time? ;)