It seems that the only thing spreading faster than H1N1 - a.k.a. the Swine(less) Flu - is hysteria.
I blame the government, for once, as opposed to the media. The media, it seems to me, has done its level best to deal with the onslaught of 'updates' issued on a regular basis from Health Canada, the WHO, and, here in Quebec, the Ministry (whose web site it, it must be conceded, very useful and informative).
While the government has issued several statements regarding the relative mildness of this strain of flu, they have responded to the initial global panic, which started in late spring (remember? That was when anyone who had been to Mexico for Spring Break was shunned and people started wearing face masks on planes), by rushing to release the H1N1 vaccine in vast quantities.
This is where the story becomes the stuff of disaster movies. The release of the vaccine is a complete fiasco. Initially, the public was told that there was a strict priority list - but then any public official who spoke on the subject assured us that no one would be turned away from a vaccination centre, even if they were not pregnant, chronically ill, or otherwise immuno-compromised. As a result, everyone showed up on Day One, those who should have been top priority were turned away, on-hand supplies of the vaccine were depleted in record time, and people kept tripping over the headless chickens.
So now the public officials are saying that the priority list is being strictly enforced, so anyone who's not 'high risk' should stay away from the vaccination centres.
The problem, however, is with the vaccination centres themselves. Whose bright idea was this anyway?
Here's what should be done: the vaccine should be given to all school children in school, the way the Hepatitis and Gardasil shots are distributed. Boom - all the school age kids whose parents want their kids vaccinated are done. The same could be done at all Cegeps and universities - at least once every semester, the same campuses host Hema-Quebec (the provincial equivalent of the Red Cross) for the blood drive, so surely an on-campus vaccination centre is feasible. In the same vein (ha ha), vaccination centres could be set up on-site at any business with, say, more than 500 employees.
On-site centres, like the blood drive model, could be set up quickly, run for one day, and the be dismantled and sent on to the next site. We could hire nursing and med students (and give them a chance to practice with needles and crowd control) to staff the travelling centres.
If we set up this kind of distribution plan, we would have a significant segment of the population vaccinated within two weeks, rather than two months. The remaining members of the population could easily be vaccinated at smaller, local centres, like our several CLSC walk-in clinics.
I have two kids - one of them is high-risk, because he has asthma and a number of allergies. The other one is home from school for the second day because he has the flu!
There is no way that I am going to venture into the three-ring vaccination circus at this point. My younger son will either get the flu from his brother, or not. At the first sign of respiratory distress, I'll bring him to the emergency room. It seems to me that the overcrowded ER, and the long wait we'll no doubt have to endure, will be a walk in the park compared to the vaccination centres - not to mention that despite his "high-risk" designation, my son is not eligible for the vaccination for another ten days. Too bad he's not a hockey player in Calgary.
The fact is - as the media, to their credit, have been trying to tell us - H1N1 is a flu, and like most strains, is mostly harmless. Yes, there have been deaths, but there have been far fewer than with more common strains of the flu - yet the vaccination panic makes it seem like H1N1 is the Black Death revisited.
At the same time, I've heard otherwise-rational colleagues warning people not to get the vaccine because it's full of mercury (it's not) or it's untested (it has been tested).
Bottom line? Get informed, and don't give in to panic. If you think you might have the flu, don't rush to the ER - start here.
Don't think I am not taking the H1N1 issue seriously - I am. It's in my home, and my son is very much on my mind. We are being vigilant. We're just also trying to be rational.
Be healthy, in body and mind.