Obliged to get H1N1 vaccination

I will get the H1N1 vaccination. It’s common sense. Unfortunately, many people are not going to get the H1N1 flu vaccine because they’ve been misinformed, are afraid or simply lackadaisical about the whole matter.

I will get the H1N1 vaccination. It’s common sense.

Unfortunately, many people are not going to get the H1N1 flu vaccine because they’ve been misinformed, are afraid or simply lackadaisical about the whole matter.

I’m not here to debate with the anti-vaccine group. They’ve made up their minds, albeit not on the basis of sound science.

I’m interested in those who choose not to get the H1N1 vaccination because they can’t be bothered or see no benefit in it.

Vaccine programs have saved millions and millions of lives by preventing illnesses, some quite crippling if you’ve ever known anyone who was a victim of polio or who had complications from rubella or the mumps, or if you know anything about how devastating smallpox once was.

The problem with the present H1N1 program is that too many people may not bother to get the vaccination — almost half the population, according to one poll. Health authorities have failed to convince these hesitants and they have failed to adequately counter the anti-vaccine group. There’s still time. The H1N1 vaccine program in Alberta just started on Monday in Red Deer and across the rest of Alberta.

For those healthy people who think H1N1 is no big deal, many of them may be right. Some may get H1N1 and suffer only a mild illness. But like all flus, H1N1 has claimed lives, nine in Alberta as of Friday. Almost 200 people have been hospitalized in Alberta to the same date.

The day before people get ill from H1N1, and for the next seven days after, they are contagious and can pass the flu on to others, like their loved ones, or their co-workers, some of whom may be more susceptible. The way to end a pandemic is to stop its spread. That’s what the H1N1 vaccine is capable of. That’s what any vaccine is capable of — stopping the spread of illness.

Most people have no immunity to H1N1 because it’s a new strain of influenza A. Once the present wave dissipates, a second wave could hit after Christmas, according to health authorities.

It’s a free world, sort of. With that freedom comes responsibility. Vaccinations are not compulsory. But when your elective surgery gets cancelled or you can’t get your 80-year-old father into emergency, or you can’t get into the walk-in clinic with your sick child because the system is overloaded with people sick from the flu, who’s fault is that?

In an average year, 10 to 20 per cent of Canadians get sick with the regular flu. H1N1 could result in 30 to 50 per cent of Canadians getting sick. Mathematical modelling done for the Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan suggests a new strain of flu could kill between 11,000 and 58,000 Canadians in a period of six to eight weeks, send 35,000 to 138,000 people to hospital and leave 4.5 million to 10.6 million others too sick to work.

The economic impact would be severe with this worst-case scenario. Fortunately, H1N1 so far is proving no more deadly than the usual seasonal flu that sweeps the country. But even so-called regular flu stills manages to kill 4,000 to 8,000 Canadians every year.

Glen Armstrong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary, told CBC recently: “Clearly with the data that we have, the accumulated data that we have, it shows the benefit of becoming vaccinated with the H1N1 flu vaccine far, far, far outweighs the risks of an adverse reaction from the vaccines.”

I got the seasonal flu shot last week. This week, I’ll get the H1N1 vaccine. The vaccine itself will not make me sick. I may have a sore arm, but I’ll have these tiny little wonderful antigens coursing through my veins, helping to ward off sickness and keeping me from spreading the bug around. And about 10 days after I get the H1N1 shot, I’ll have developed an immunity to the illness.

There’s no sense of fear or panic here.

If a did get the flu, I would probably survive, like most other Canadians who get it. But vaccinations have always made sense to me because, very simply, they help stop the spread of disease.

Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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