Friday, October 30, 2009

Excuse me, doc - any advice for the uncertain?

What are we to take from the fact that a majority of adult Canadians don’t want to be immunized against the H1N1 flu?
I know how they feel. I’m still on the fence myself about whether to get the shot. Being immunized definitely appears to be the logical, civic-minded choice, but there’s this part of me that’s just really hesitant about getting a flu shot.
And 51 per cent of the Canadians apparently feel the same way.
Asked in an on-line poll this month about whether they’d be getting vaccinated against H1N1, more than half said no. That’s up significantly from July, when only 38 per cent were saying no.
That fact must be a great disappointment to the public-health officials working hard on the H1N1 front. People were alarmed as all get-out when the new strain of influenza first took hold in Mexico, and the task back then looked like it was going to be about keeping a worried public calm until a vaccine could be developed.
Instead we’ve ended up here, with immunization now available but fewer Canadians actually wanting it. That’s a fascinating turn of events.
What it speaks to more than anything is that the public no longer knows who to trust about such things. That’s especially true when it comes to flu shots.
We were terrified of H1N1 when it first started wreaking havoc in Mexico. I followed each new development with great interest as the virus took hold in the spring, and had long conversations with my own adult children in hopes of getting them thinking about vaccination.
But then H1N1 arrived in our own home towns. And in most cases it looked a lot like any other seasonal flu, except with more people getting it.
Public health experts continued to emphasize that H1N1 had the potential to be a much more serious type of flu. People do die from it - 87 so far in Canada. But it seems that the more H1N1 has taken hold in Canada, the more our scepticism has grown about getting immunized.
Canadians are sceptical of flu shots to begin with - less than a third of us get the seasonal shot.
The peculiar thing is that we’re generally pretty happy to get immunized. I got seven immunizations for a trip to Ghana a decade ago, and didn’t second-guess any of them. Most Canadians are quite willing to be immunized against major illnesses and to get their children immunized as well, so it’s not like vaccination is a foreign concept.
Ah, but the flu shot - for some reason, that’s a whole different thing. North Americans overall just haven’t taken to the flu shot, despite years of admonitions from public health officials about the importance of doing so.
Is it because you need a shot every year? Or because you’ve had the flu many times and it hasn’t killed you yet? Is it about the horror stories of vaccinations gone wrong that emerge just often enough to confirm your reluctance, or maybe a secret suspicion that it’s good for your immune system to have to fight off illness on its own once in a while?
I admit to a little of all of those in my own feelings about getting a flu shot. And I know it’s all about having an emotional reaction to the issue rather than a logical one. I hate being sick with the flu and I’m asthmatic to boot, so there’s no sensible reason for me to resist inoculation.
In the case of H1N1, experiences in my own family this past month should have also pushed me toward immunization if logic had anything to do with it. My brother’s wife is still recovering in hospital after a terrible bout of H1N1 that left her incapacitated and on a ventilator in the intensive care unit for almost a week.
But there’s something that I just can’t get my head around when it comes to flu shots. I wish I understood my resistance better, because I like to think I make good choices when it comes to my health. Public health officials might want to try to understand the resistance of people like me as well, because their messages clearly aren’t having the desired effect if the majority of Canadians are saying no to a flu shot.
Please take my musings on this subject as nothing more than that. I offer no advice on whether to get an H1N1 shot. I’m just saying that rightly or wrongly, many of us need more convincing.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Do you think our reluctance has anything to do with the degradation of our trust in Government to act in our best interests? That's what I think. It's also a small thing that we actually have personal control over, all of the other "shocks" to our social safety are coming so fast from abovr we have no time to react.