Friday, November 13, 2009

Mama on a Mission

Katie, thankfully, had her first dose of H1N1 vaccine today. The rest of this blog tells how that came about and my opinions about how the flu vaccine is being distributed.

You know me: as much as I can throw myself wholeheartedly and unabashedly into celebrating the abundance and excitement of this world's natural beauty, I can also be highly reserved and skeptical when processing any kind of information disseminated through human channels, especially visual media such as news programs. I am a born skeptic when it comes to all human affairs and human intercession into any matter.

So naturally many months ago, I very much thought that talk of the "swine flu" and all of the hype with it was bordering on rubbish: I thought, perhaps, the media was making it a big deal as a mere exercise, much like when they call a few sprinkles a "storm watch." I am not one to jump on any bandwagon. In fact, things that are popular always put me off a little simply because they are so popular. Everyone, for example, said that the novel The Lovely Bones was absolutely amazing. It actually is---but I waited years for the hype to die down before I would actually read it. I am weird this way with all sorts of pop culture, though over time I have found there are people whose taste I trust. If Rosa, for example, recommends something, it probably is going to be good. Therefore, since I am a intrinsic skeptic when it comes to most anything seemingly promulgated by the masses.

Yet as I began to educate myself about "swine flu" from objective sources, I learned that actually, yes, this current strain of H1N1 is extremely serious---and that we need to enact every possible precaution. The 2009 H1N1 strain is genetically related to the very deadly 1918 Spanish flu virus. (All of this is online, by the way). The H1N1 strain is much more likely than the regular seasonal flu to replicate in the lungs and to cause pneumonia. While Tamiflu and Relenza have been used as antivirals for developing cases of H1N1 in the past months, two things have happened that are not comforting: 1) the CDC is now prioritizing the use of antivirals because there are not enough; 2) a new strain of H1N1 has been found in Canada, and it is resistant to Tamiflu.

Although Katie is old enough at 2 to be a little less at risk than children under 1 year old, she is still considered to be in the high risk group for developing swine flu complications, according to the CDC. Even a little bit of a high risk is too much risk for me... And although I know that most cases of swine flu and infants will resolve without issue, I do not want to chance my most precious treasure on this earth.

Fortunately, a little research on outbreak patterns show that Temecula has yet to be hit by the swine flu---well, officially. Without swabbing in every case, it is impossible to know. However, I know that it has not approached our household. We've been lucky to escape this season so far with a couple of colds. While some suggest that certain cases of swine flu may present themselves more gently, much of my research shows that most cases of swine flu present full-fledged flu symptoms: high fever, chills, aches throughout the body, cough, etc.

I felt that I had gathered enough information to pursue doggedly the vaccine for Katie. I have been trying to secure one for weeks. I did manage to get on the wait list at our pediatrician's office, and I have been calling other places in Temecula to see if they have any and if we can get it. I have met wall after wall, vague responses, whispers about priority lists, etc. It's been frustrating to say the least. While it has been easy to gather every shred of information about the serious nature of the H1N1 virus, its history, its symptoms, its riskiness, it has been likewise nearly impossible to find any information about where the vaccine is, how the priority lists are actually working (technically, Katie is in a priority group---though not first priority). Special day clinics that have the vaccine have been cancelled. The amount of energy and time spent worrying has been taxing, to say the least.

I have been so frustrated with the lack of transparency as to how the vaccine is being distributed. I am relieved to see in the news tonight that, contrary to initial reports, detainees at Guantanamo will likely not be receiving the 300 doses sent there. Let's vaccinate all the children first before we think about vaccinating prisoners, hm? The other issue is that I think if there are priority lists, everyone given first priority should have 2 weeks to get their vaccine. If they decline it or don't get around to getting it when they have a chance to get it, it should be given to someone else who wants it more, for his or her children. This business about reserving vaccines for an indefinite time for people who are on the priority list but are taking their time about it is absurd. So my idea is: you get 2 weeks to get it when you are up for priority, and after it defaults to the next group. After priority list people have had their chance, it should be given on a first come, first served basis. No group of people (other than children, the chronically ill, and the elderly---all high risk) should be given any kind of special treatment over anyone else. That means we don't vaccinate skid row (on the news last night) first, and we don't focus on just the inner city. The vaccine should be sent to locations spaced equally apart with the locations disclosed---and you line up. No discrimination---of any sort.

Which doesn't seem to be how the vaccine is being distributed right now.

After California declared its state of emergency regarding the swine flu vaccine yesterday, and after new numbers from the CDC indicate a higher death toll so far than originally thought, I was spurred on today to reinvigorate my search for the vaccine for Katie. There are ten clinics in Riverside County that are administering H1N1 on a daily basis right now. I called several this morning, as well as the automated scheduling system---and received automatic messages that phone calls would not be going through to the clinics today. So I took my chance on a walk-in. They are out of adult vaccine. But there was one for Katie. I could choose inactivated (shot) or live (nasal), and I chose the shot. She needs a second dose, which they could not guarantee---they could run out. But now that she has had one dose, I might be able to use the immunization card as leverage for a pediatric office in town if the clinic runs out---though of course I will try all 10. Hopefully there will be a prevailing philosophy among pediatricians in town that the vaccine series needs to be finished, and I might be able to move up on the wait list. By the time she needs a second dose, the school district may also be administering to employees and their families. That will happen in December. Since she needs two doses, I am glad I started now, so that she will be finished by the time flu season gets really bad. If I waited to do the first dose in December, she would not have been finished until January---and I think in many cases, that would probably be too late.

What I have learned is that mothers are very powerful when we're on a mission. I hardly could eat lately, and I am worn out. Adrenaline has been pushing me through. After her shot, I could feel my adrenaline crashing. I am ready to drive anywhere, wait anywhere, do anything to get my daughter protected. Today was the culminating reward of weeks of pursuit---and I am very relieved that I know I have done my best for my daughter today and that she is FINALLY (partially) protected.

This has been a longer road for me than I have even let on to those closest to me. Much worry has been temporarily lifted today... (of course, I am eager for the final dose). I have shed tears worrying about her in this flu season, and I have been ready to declare our withdrawal from all crowd contact if I couldn't vaccinate her within one week from today. That would have meant no classes, no store runs together, nothing at all which involves groups of people. Maybe not even the big Thanksgiving. Just a small handful of people I really trust not to be sick or to be carriers, people who don't go into big crowds themselves. Even Bill has been concerned about transmission from school to home---he knows how potentially serious this flu really is. We have been using Purell EVERYWHERE.

I just hope the current strain continues to mutate into something less potent. Most flu strains do---over time, the virus "realizes" that it is not beneficial to attack to the point of fatality. Most flu viruses evolve so that they don't kill the host population---after all, think about it: the virus is dependent upon having hosts in order to survive and replicate. But right now, the swine flu is not at that point. I would not want to enter this flu season without a vaccine for my child.

I actually would like one, too, but I know I probably won't come close to being prioritized...and although I am healthy and know I could fight it, I also truly believe that, of the two of us, I don't care if something happens to me: I am expendable. Katie is not.