The H1N1 flu vaccine has arrived. Now what?
The dilemma is most acute for people like Lauren Arens.
“Just when I decide that I think I’m going to get [the vaccine],” she said, “I’ll read another article or some new information that makes me think twice.”
As a 34-year-old pregnant woman, with a history of pneumonia, she is in a high risk group.
Canadians began rolling up their sleeves this week to receive the first of the H1N1 flu vaccinations. Residents like Arens in communities along Vancouver’s Kingsway corridor remained divided on whether or not to take part in the province’s largest-ever immunization program.
A week ago, almost half of Canadians were not planning on getting the shot, according to a poll by Ipsos Reid. Skepticism about the vaccine was highest in British Columbia, with 34 per cent of people saying they were not at all likely to get it.
Then a 13-year-old boy died Tuesday in Ontario, and the debate over whether or not to take part in an unprecedented vaccination campaign hit the front page of a national newspaper.
Questions around safety
Arens, a mother of a two-year-old boy, is in her second trimester. She’s worried about the risk of serious illness if she contracts the H1N1 virus.
“I can’t afford to get sick. I will most likely get it,” she said. “But there is still that little voice in my head wondering if it is at all safe.”
Health Canada approved the H1N1 shot on October 21 amid widespread speculation about the safety of the vaccine. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones gave a news conference two days later at which he spoke very bluntly to public fear.
“The choice is simple: a safe and effective preventive vaccine or a very real risk of disease,” he said. “If we get the real facts about the vaccine, you will almost certainly choose immunization.”
Those at highest risk first to be inoculated
Since October 20, 88 new severe cases of H1N1 have been identified and three people have died in BC. That brings provincial totals to 199 confirmed severe cases and 12 deaths, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. Only one of those who died had no underlying medical condition.
The BCCDC received its first batch of H1N1 flu shots last week.
Starting Monday morning, clinics across the province were offering the vaccine to individuals at highest risk, including pregnant women in their second or third trimesters, and adults under 65 with chronic medical conditions.
Children under the age of 18 and health care workers will be eligible to receive the shot next week.
Healthy British Columbians are being asked to wait until mid-November, when more doses will be available, to be immunized.
Making the choice
Kelly Read has never had a flu shot, and will not be going for one this year. Neither will her school-aged kids.
“I guess the main reason is that I see it as just the flu,” said the Cedar Cottage resident, “as opposed to the media seeing it as ‘Oh my god, it’s a pandemic!’ As a mom, I need to keep the drama to a minimum so everyone can stay calm and rest.”
Read’s neighbour Marcia St Aubin has been working in or around the health care system for over 20 years. She’s getting the shot.
“My motivation is to reduce the risk I bring to those who are vulnerable by not being a possible source of H1N1 infection myself,” she said. “This really is the reason all health care workers should be motivated by.”
St Aubin will only vaccinate her two boys if health officials declare teenagers to be at high risk.
Business as usual at one local school
While the virus has hit some Vancouver schools hard, at Dickens Elementary School attendance has been better this term than in regular flu years.
“I’ve heard no reports from parents of H1N1,” said Principal Kathy O’Sullivan. “Perhaps it’s that we have a brand new school and the air quality is very good.”
Though she knows it’s not the choice everyone will make, O’Sullivan and her 22-year-old son will be getting the shot.
“I believe in making sure I’m in optimal health,” she said.
Health Canada expects its advice to the public to change as it receives new information. In the meantime, the agency continues to urge Canadians to get the vaccine when it becomes available.