Friday, October 23rd, 2009

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!

24 Comments / Post A Comment

RocketSurgeon (#1,632)

I just got an email with the Dept of Health's H1N1 weekend vaccination clinic schedule for children if you're really concerned. I'll email it over.

Ronit (#1,557)

Jeez. I'm so glad I don't have kids after reading that. Good luck.

The Walgreens near me has been advertising that they have the regular flu shot for a couple of months now. Maybe check a drugstore?

mBrad (#1,276)

The Right Aid near me posted a sign saying they canceled their flu clinics due to excessive demand. I do not understand. The sign:

Bittersweet (#765)

"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?"

Tom, I heart you so much for this. Good luck in getting the vaccinations. Doesn't your son's asthma put him in the 'higher risk' category? Have you used this argument with the pediatrician?

HiredGoons (#603)

I also favored the aforementioned passage, nice work.

Sweetie (#519)

Yeah, we used the asthma angle and it worked. We recently switched pediatricians, so the new ped doesn't actually know my son is asthma-free. We were just lucky. And we're assholes.

mathnet (#27)

It definitely should help, yes. And kids age 2 don't need the shot as much as kids age 3-5? That has to be a mistake because it makes no sense whatsoever.

Honest Engine (#1,661)

The only thing I can think of is that more 3-5 year olds are in school/daycare situations than the younger kids. Giving them the vaccine would go farther towards preventing larger outbreaks. So maybe in the "triage" type situation we apparently have, it makes more sense from a public health perspective to get the 3-5 year olds first.

Tom Scocca (#48)

And all those thoughts did go through my mind–aren't you trying to protect day-care kids? Isn't asthma serious enough?–but then I would have been That Guy, arguing on the phone with the receptionist that my special kid should jump the line when there's not enough vaccine to go around. I'm sure they have other asthmatic, day-care-going two-year-olds in their patient files.

mathnet (#27)

That's a reasonable guess, I guess, about the rationale. It's also a little scary if you're right because a 5-year-old–especially one who's in preschool–has a much, much stronger immune system than a 2-year-old–especially a 2-year-old who's not in daycare/preschool.

Bittersweet (#765)

It seems to me that one of the great challenges of parenting is when to be That Guy fighting for your child and his specialness and when to step back and go with the larger group.

amockingbird (#2,015)

I also heart Tom for the rant about wacko non-vaccinating parents. Sure, some people have severe reactions to vaccines, but many more people have severe reactions to car accidents, and you don't see the wacky anti-vaccine activists advocating a return to the horse and buggy.

I tried to go see my doctor this week about whether I should get a flu shot when I have the never ending Cold of Death, but she refused to see me as I was late for my appointment after getting stuck in traffic and driving 1 1/2 hours across town to get to her. I'm now getting a new doctor. (And according to my acupuncturist and my pharmacist, you should not get a flu shot when you are less than healthy).

jkeeton (#2,051)

There are some additional guidelines for kids with asthma getting flu vaccinations, outlined here,

Nutshell: they need the shot, not flu-mist. If they are between 6 months and 8yrs, AND have not had a flu shot before, they need two doses.

katiebakes (#32)

That second kid in line grew up to be such a yes-man.

HiredGoons (#603)

I'm guessing #3 likes to tie women up.

oudemia (#177)

All sympathy on the ICU monitors. I began to sympathetically vibrate with them and would just about stroke out at any stray beep or line.

Pop Socket (#187)

My college-aged son got the H1N1 virus the first week of the semester and didn't tell us until last week, so the point is moot in his case.

Tom Scocca (#48)

And now our local problem is News: . So I could pull him out of day care and go stand with him in the chill-with-chance-of-rain, surrounded by a mob of unimmunized children. That seems prudent.

slinkimalinki (#182)

do you need that regular flu shot anyway? hasn't H1N1 become the dominant strain?

barnhouse (#1,326)

For God's sake don't go beating yourself up if Master Scocca should catch a bug. If he gets a fever just barrel over to the doctor, for early treatment is evidently key. Most of the cases here in LA have been mild (my daughter's school is crawling with it.)

They scare us so much about this one thing that might not even be such a deal! Meanwhile there is probably all this other stuff we don't even know to be terrified of.

brent_cox (#40)

From what I gleaned from a (pretty terrible) NPR bit this morning, the problem is at the manufacturing level, with the term "50 year old technology" being dropped here and there. And a question I'd have is who owns (and who doesn't own) the manufacturers. But I'm nosy.

Bittersweet (#765)

The main manufacturers are the vaccine arms of Glaxo, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis and AstraZeneca, large pharmaceutical companies. And I'm not worried about "50 year old technology" as long as it works…we've had electric lightbulbs and the internal combustion engine for a lot longer than that.

shelven (#1,992)

I know this piece is more of a comment on how the health care industry is broken, but since it is, obvious question — have you asked any doctors you know personally, friends, relatives etc.? I only ask because ones outside the strapped pediatric realm seem to be handing it out like drunken sailors. I've been offered it a few times, and I don't even smoke.

Roux (#2,061)

Apparently the CDC told the states to stop lab testing for H1N1 in July. Anyone who has "flu like" symptoms is assumed to have the H1N1 virus. That was after only about a 20% positive rate for H1N1 prior to July.

I'm not saying it's a conspiracy just plain stupid. They are worrying and causing panic for no good reason. Be honest with us CDC.

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