H1N1 vaccine: One big confusing mess
There are plenty of reasons to get upset about the H1N1 influenza situation. Over-optimistic projections of vaccine supply have given way to acknowledgements that by the time the vaccine is widely available, this wave of H1N1 infection may well be over. There have been scary reports about otherwise-healthy kids and pregnant women falling gravely ill and even dying. There is maddening news that big New York firms are receiving shipments of vaccine, even as pediatricians across the country have little or none.
A poll released Friday by the Harvard School of Public Health found that two-thirds of parents and high-risk adults who want H1N1 vaccinations for themselves or their families have been unable to get it. It's incredibly frustrating to be doing what we think we're supposed to be doing -- taking responsibility for our health and following government exhortations to get ourselves vaccinated -- only to have our efforts thwarted by lack of supply.
But to me the most unsettling aspect of the whole mess is that nobody seems to be in charge. The right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing, and straight answers are hard to come by. And as this report notes, much of the advice out there for avoiding H1N1 flu is confusing and even off-putting.
(Before I go on, I should say that I am very grateful to live in an era in which there even is a vaccine to protect against influenza. I appreciate the scientists who were able to pinpoint this virus and come up with a vaccine against it. And I value the access my family and I have to some very fine, caring physicians.)
My family got off to a good start this fall. Both kids and my husband were able to snag seasonal flu vaccines a month ago; the kids because I got their names on a list at the pediatrician's -- and because we were happy to take the nasal-spray version. My husband's workplace offered a clinic. Because I didn't think I was in a high-risk group, and because we work-at-homers don't have workplace clinics, I didn't get vaccinated.
I wanted to get the kids vaccinated against H1N1, too. But the pediatrician's office was saving its limited vaccine supply for high-risk kids--those with asthma and other conditions that set them up for severe illness if they contract the flu. Fair enough.
Through Googling, though, I learned my area health district -- just a few miles from the pediatrician's office -- was offering an H1N1 clinic for a slightly broader range of people. I made appointments for Thursday evening. Why the doctor's office didn't refer me to that clinic, I can't say; I hate to think they didn't know about it, but I can't imagine that they wouldn't have told me if they did.
Then, one at a time, both kids got sick. The school nurse sent my daughter home because her teachers thought she had flu symptoms, though the nurse said she didn't appear to have "the tattoo of flu," whatever that means. Because she didn't have a fever, we figured she had some other illness involving a very sore throat, headache, persistent cough and the need to sleep for hours on end. Thankfully, she got better soon.
Then it was my son's turn: sore throat, cough, fatigue--and a high fever. I called the pediatrician to see if I could get him some Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that may lessen the severity of influenza if administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. No go, they said: We're saving that for the high-risk kids, too.
Come Thursday, my son still had a fever (which we were managing with Tylenol). That meant he couldn't get his H1N1 vaccine. I reluctantly called the health district to cancel the shot. But while I was on the phone, I checked their Web site and learned they had another clinic scheduled for a few days later. Did the person I spoke to mention that clinic? No, she did not. I asked whether I could move my son's appointment to that day. Oh, sure, she said. The idea clearly hadn't crossed her mind.
Okay, so now both kids are signed up to get H1N1 shots -- protection against an illness both already may have had. (Turns out H1N1 doesn't always involve a fever, I learned on the Web, so my daughter likely had it after all.) Their doctor's office recommended they go ahead with the vaccination, because there's no way to know for sure whether they'd in fact had H1N1; routine testing to confirm the virus's presence was abandoned months ago.
So the kids should be all set. But while tooling around yet again on the Web (in my defense, it is part of my job), I came across a tidbit of information I hadn't seen before. Whereas most lists of pre-existing medical conditions that increase risk of flu complications name heart disease and asthma, this was the first I'd seen that specifically mentioned multiple sclerosis. Which I have.
So it turns out I'm in a priority group after all. But a lot of good it does me. My own doctor has no vaccine and isn't likely to get any soon. She did write me a prescription for Tamiflu, but was uncertain whether I should take it now, as a prophylactic measure -- having likely been exposed to H1N1 via my children -- or save it until symptoms show up. If I take it now, she cautioned, and then am exposed to H1N1 in, say, a month, I won't be able to take Tamiflu again.
Nor is that clinic I'm taking the kids to giving shots to folks like me. We're a priority, I suppose, but apparently a low one.
Who knows how everything will turn out? I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, not only for my family but for all the families out there who are trying to do right by their children and finding confusion at every turn.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
November 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Chronic Conditions , Family Health , Influenza , Neurological disorders , Vaccinations
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