No H1N1 Vaccine For You, Kiddo

“Keep calling back,” the receptionist at the pediatrician’s office said, ringing off. They were out of H1N1 flu vaccine, she had told me, and they didn’t know when the next batch might be coming. So keep calling.

I would rather not keep calling. That was my third or fourth or fifth inquiry about the swine-flu vaccine, by phone or in person at the office while getting other shots for the kid. This is not because I am a hysterical parent, unable to bear the thought of my child going without medical intervention. I do not snap awake at three in the morning with flu panic, worrying that some filthy stranger may cough around my precious offspring before he has been properly immunized, cursing the government for not coming up with vaccine fast enough, scheming to intercept the life-saving product before it goes to someone else’s child. (Let the other child die.)

Instead, I keep forgetting about the whole thing. Then, after a couple of days, I remember, and I make myself call the pediatrician’s office, and the pediatrician’s office puts me on hold. And when I get off hold, they say they don’t have it. Or one time they did have a batch, but they were only giving it out to kids between 3 and 5, or to kids who had heart conditions requiring surgery. The kid is only 2, and as far as we know his heart is fine. Keep calling back.

It would be much less work if I really were crazy. I try to be reasonable about health care for the kid: get him the normal shots, give him medicine when the doctor says to, and don’t go looking for other stuff to get worried about. Now, though, through the wonders of the United States public-health system, the sensible thing turns out to be impractical. I really should get him a swine-flu shot; I really can’t get him a swine-flu shot.


Either I force myself to act like an obsessed person or I ignore the whole swine-flu threat. I would love to ignore it. My inclination is to ignore it. At least I think that’s my inclination, but it’s hard to be sure. The kid was born nine weeks early, and that kind of skews my perspective. Among the routine, non-serious complications that came with it was that in the first few weeks in the hospital, he would sometimes forget to breathe, till an intensive-care nurse would tickle him and he would start up again. Very normal. His last week in the hospital, we slept in a room with him while he was hooked up to a blood-oxygen monitor. Eventually, after maybe the 20th time the machinery had beeped us out of sleep with a false or dubious warning-the baby rosy and oxygenated all the while-our annoyance became stronger than our fear, and we were ready to take him home.

And he was fine, and that would have been that, except he also developed asthma. Big deal, a lot of kids get asthma. Then just as we were moving back to the United States, last winter, he got a bad cold. I had learned not to worry about colds. Children are pretty tough. We took him to the pediatrician to be safe, so she could maybe prescribe him something if he really needed it. She checked his vital signs, blasted his lungs with an emergency dose of albuterol, and called an ambulance: respiratory distress and pneumonia.

So it’s also possible, in this over-anxious world, to worry too little. I’m not the only person I know who has overlooked toddler pneumonia. I missed an ear infection for three days, too. The kid is in day care, where disease does flourish. The asthma really would make a flu infection more hazardous. I accept that he needs the vaccine.

But where is the vaccine? Weren’t there supposed to be jackbooted public-heath officials ordering everyone to line up for shots? I am all in favor of forcible vaccination; anti-vaccine activists are degenerate idiots who deserve to get polio and live out their days in iron lungs while Child Protective Services takes away their children to be properly raised. Or tetanus. Get lockjaw and shut up and die. What’s the point of living in 21st-century America if not to avoid dying of stupid, easily preventable disease? You just like listening to Miley Cyrus?

When I try to be a responsible member of the immunological herd, I get nowhere. While I was writing this, it occurred to me that the kid still also needs to get a shot for the regular, non-swine, non-sensational influenza. That gave me an extra excuse-no, an extra reason-to be calling the doctor, again. The H1N1 was still unavailable, still with no known delivery date. The regular flu shot? Also out of stock. Call back in a week.

Previously: Stroller-Bullying on the Red Line

Tom Scocca prefers to write for money, should you have some. Ask him yourself!