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The H1N1 Vaccine Dilemma

H1N1 ShotThe news is out: as of today, October 26th, the H1N1 flu vaccine is available in Canada.

A primary group should get the flu vaccine as soon as possible: people under 65 with chronic health conditions; pregnant women; children 6 months to less than 5 years of age; people living in remote communities; health care workers involved in pandemic response or the delivery of essential health care services; and populations otherwise identified as high risk. As for the rest of Canadians, it will be up to them to show up at their local vaccination clinic.

So, should we get vaccinated? I’m wondering. I don’t believe in massive conspiracy theories but yet, as your average Canadian, I can’t help being confused by all the mixed information we have been getting so far.

First, is the vaccine safe? The WHO is bracing for a second wave of H1N1 outbreak this winter. As a result, some suggested that the production of the swine flu vaccine have been fast-tracked and haven’t been fully tested. I do believe the Ministry of Health Canada has pretty high health security standards and I can’t imagine it bowing to political pressure, so this is not what bugs me the most. However, I am concerned about the vaccine side-effects. For example, I’m allergic to quite a few medicines, including some antibiotics and even anaesthetics. Is the vaccine safe for me? Would the benefits of immunization outweigh the risks?

One of the problems is that in Canada, we are facing a severe shortage of health practitioners. Like most Canadians, I don’t have a general practitioner. When I’m sick and when I need it, I just go to the walk-in clinic. While the care provided is usually good, most patients see a different doctor each time — basically, whoever is on duty — and consultations are often a bit rushed. Therefore, we lack health care practitioners who know our health history and could discuss with us the benefits and the risks of the vaccine. And I’m sure getting a professional’s opinion on the vaccine would really help to debunk some myths and make people more comfortable with their choice. 

Yet, it is true that getting vaccinated is a public health issue, not just a personal one. Some people cannot get the vaccine (infants, for instance), so it’s up to us to protect them. The more people immunized, the less are the chance of worsening the pandemic. So, are we just being selfish?

Generally speaking, I am being more careful. I wash my hands often and more than once, I shot other passengers in the bus dirty looks because they were coughing on me. I use the hand sanitizers made available in most public buildings. I try to have a balanced and healthy diet, to rest — basic common sense, with turning paranoid.

One major issue that worries me is the lack of social welfare in North America and our labor laws. Officials are urging people to stay home when they are sick to avoid spreading the infection. However, a lot of people don’t get sick days. In Canada, for example, those who work for employers that regularly employ at least 50 employees are entitled to personal emergency leave, which is basically unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 10 days each year. Most casual or contract workers don’t even get that. And a huge chunk of the working population don’t get paid sick days. For example, when I was teaching, we had 2.5 paid sick days a year! Unless you work in the public sector or for major companies, you are unlikely to get good social benefits.

The effects of this kind of social policy could be disastrous. How many times did I see co-workers coming in sick before they didn’t have any more sick days and couldn’t afford to lose a few days’ wage? How many times did I show up at work myself, instead of resting at home, just because I didn’t want to lose a day worth of salary? How many times did I drag a cold for weeks because I hadn’t taken the time off to rest and to get rid of it?

It seems to me that if governments are serious about curbing the pandemic, various Employment Acts throughout the country should be updated to guarantee all workers some kind of paid sick leave.

So, how about you? Are you going to get vaccinated? Why and why not?

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