Monday, November 9, 2009

Avoiding the piggie flu

It was a problem that didn't have a perfect solution. And the information needed to make a decision regarding the solution was ever-changing. Enter stage right: swine flu.

See, I'm already messing up. It's politically incorrect to call the virus "swine flu." Poor pigs. Ok, then. H1N1. It doesn't really matter, though, right? The new, more technical name still causes panic in people.

The problem was how to keep everyone safe and healthy, especially those most at risk in our household, my 3-month-old baby and me.

Our household, minus our youngest member, we all got the H1N1 vaccine last Thursday. The critical at-risk population that qualified us all to get it was that the wee 3-month-old in our household was at risk and not able to receive the vaccination. Since the only way to prevent her from getting the virus was for her never to encounter it, everyone in the household could to be vaccinated.

I've had my reservations about this whole thing. It's a brand new vaccine. What if something went wrong? What if I got the vaccine and I got sick or debilitated and couldn't take care of the baby? What about my older daughter? I don't want her to have some strange reaction to a vaccine. How would I feel then? Still, there were no reports of people suffering from the vaccine...and there WERE reports of babies getting the piggie flu and being dead 24 hours after diagnosis. One of those babies was in my state of Michigan. I couldn't get it out of my head: what if MY baby got the flu accidentally and died? How stupid and foolish would I feel for not going ahead and having everyone in our household protected against the virus?

Normally I'm not a person who is an alarmist. I take the wide angle lens to examine the world and try not to jump to hasty decisions. When swine flu hit the US last spring, back when I was just a pregnant woman with asthma, I didn't worry too much. Sure, all flu strains result in death for a few, but I always sought medical attention when needed. Surely if I caught the bug, me and my growing baby in utero would eventually be fine.

The effects of the pandemic abated in the US over the summer. That was when the news hit about pregnant women being particularly susceptible to the fatal effects of this flu. The way I heard the guarded warnings in the news was like this: You shouldn't worry unless you are pregnant (I was) or if you are asthmatic (I am). Even if you are in one of those groups, don't worry too much because it's summer. Where the swine flu is really spreading right now is in the southern hemisphere, where it is the dead of winter. So really you're not at risk unless you travel to South America, like Brazil, or if you live with someone who recently has. Oops. My husband was in Brazil at the time. But we beat the odds and I didn't encounter anyone who seemed symptomatic. Groovy. The baby was born without so much as a hint of a flu-like symptoms on my part.

Then, just about the same time I was breathing a sigh of relief for no longer being pregnant and potentially being exposed to the virus every week due to my many medical appointments, the flu season reared its ugly head here in the northern part of the northern hemisphere. The promised vaccine was slow in coming. When I called the pediatrician's office, I heard a pre-recorded message before I could reach a live person: "If this a life-threatening emergency, hang up and dial 911. If you are calling to inquire about vaccination against the flu for your child, we are not scheduling appointment since our supply has not yet arrived..." ...and the recorded voice trailed off into a slew of conditionals and apologetics. I started getting a little more nervous. Maybe this thing WAS something I should worry about. The most likely groups to catch the flu? Teenagers and those on colleges campuses (that covers my older daughter and my husband). Those most at risk? Those whose respiratory systems aren't strong, like very young infants and asthmatics (that covers my baby daughter and me). I thought, we're screwed. My immunologist's office didn't have the vaccine at all and had no idea when it was coming. The county announced a free vaccination clinic; all the doses available were accounted for in the first hour when those who had already been waiting for 4-5 hours were assigned numbers. As a result, the county canceled the three remaining clinics scheduled in order to avoid similar panic-driven chaos.

Finally, the county announced a county-wide mass vaccination clinic held at one of the local university's large arenas. 4000 doses of the vaccine available. 10a-7p, one day only. I showed up at 9a with the baby, aiming to get wristbands (required to enter the building and to receive a vaccine) for me, my husband, and my older daughter. I was successful...and spent the next four hours in line. With the baby. Surrounded by hundreds of other people in a confined space. My husband ended up having to cancel his classes for the day in order to get his shot. I took my older daughter in the evening after the school day was over and she had completed swim practice. The whole time I was there with her, she kept saying, "this is JUST like I Am Legend. Maybe we'll all turn into ZOMBIES!" I told her to keep it down and not to incite panic. By the time we got home, it was far past dinner time. We raced through reheated leftovers and finally finished at about 9:30p.

But. The point is. We got our swine flu vaccines.

Wasn't the whole point of vaccinating against this virus so that the normal flow of activity in the country wouldn't be disrupted? I feel like there's some irony in here somewhere.


Hip Mom's Guide said...

Irony, for sure! Glad you got it, though.

Heather said...

They keep changing the criteria around here so some people not in the high risk categories are getting vaccinated while others who are in the the risk category wait for more doses to arrive. It's a real mess. My baby has had one shot, and I hope that there will be the second dose there for her when she's supposed to get it in a month.

I'd like to get my older kids vaccinated too, but it doesn't seem likely at this point.

Heather T said...

Heather, I still think it was a weird fluke that we got in and all got the vaccine on the first try. It seems weird that I could get the vaccine because I had a 3-month-old baby and NOT because I have asthma.