Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

That has been the question for the last few months in most countries lucky enough to have supply of the precious Swine Flu vaccine. But for the French nothing is ever simple. Tell them something is black and they’ll immediately tell you it’s white without even having looked. After a while they will concede to shades of gray and if you’re lucky, one day, the darkest of grays. I’m only slightly exaggerating. The French are very independent thinkers and question everything.

In talking with my students I got lots of nay-sayers who felt the vaccine wasn’t safe or that the big drug companies were making a huge profit on all of this. Or others felt they should let their own immune system fight this thing off. On the pro-side, a few were concerned as they had children with asthma who were thus more vulnerable.

The pediatricians told us not to get Juliette vaccinated when I asked back in September. Hasn’t been tested enough and we just don’t this virus well, was his line back then. Imagine my surprise then when last week during our regular check-up he’d changed his story. Now there was a vaccine that didn’t have what they call here an “adjuvant”, an additive which stimulates the immune system’s reaction to the deactivated virus bits. Now it was more “adapted” to children, he said, and even though Juliette is (luckily) in good health, he highly recommended we get her vaccinated. Could it be that he’s also had a few months to see how the flu’s been spreading and that some cases were more severe than they’d anticipated? Just as we entered his office he had to take a call about a mom who had the flu and she and the baby were to be kept in isolation to make sure they didn’t contaminate others.

So after talking it over with Remi, we decided to follow the doctor’s advice. The next day I went down to the national health insurance office, or “sécu,” for our “bon”, the little paper saying Juliette could be vaccinated. I got one for Remi as well since he has asthma and the pediatrician recommended it for him. That afternoon I took Juliette to the middle school gym which had been transformed into a vaccination center. I kept doubting my decision though. Was the fact that she was fussy getting out of the car a sign not to do this? And was the stroller being tough to move another indication? I’d heard so much talk about this vaccine that it was still hard to be 100% for it now.

At any rate, there were no huge lines out the door as we saw on TV. Just plenty of friendly folks wearing fluorescent vests getting us to fill out forms. I had to sign papers that certified that I knew the possible side-effects of the vaccine, like fever, back aches (hey, wasn’t it supposed to prevent all that?) and that I knew I could say no to the vaccine, too. They asked me if I wanted to be vaccinated myself. I don’t have a specific health condition that puts me at risk, but I figured if I were trusting this vaccine for my baby and husband, I should trust it for myself, too.

A doctor asked us a few routine questions and then we went into the make-shift cubicle where Juliette got her “sans additive” vaccine. Of course, she cried. The kind where she let out a first cry then took a big gulp of air to cry even harder. After a minute or two she was fine and offering her stuffed bunny to the nurses. Then it was my turn. So I wheeled the stroller to the cubicle next door for my vaccine with the additive. I’m not a big fan of needles and felt a bit woozy after. But I just concentrated on what the doctor was telling me and gathered up our things for the last table of paperwork. There I was rewarded with little candies in a basket. I checked on the dates to come back for Juliette’s second dose. Yes, a second dose. For some reason kids have two rounds of the vaccine here, perhaps due to it being without that additive.

As the little paper had warned me, the next day after lunch I could have sworn I was getting the flu I was supposed to be protecting myself from. Flushed cheeks, headache, chills. I took some aspirin and a power nap and felt ok. Remi got his vaccine Saturday and just had a sore arm for a while. Now we’ll just have to hope for the best and keep taking vitamin C and washing our hands like mad.

1 comment:

Lindle said...

It's hard to know what to do. It's hard to trust doctors when they vacillate to vaccinate! If they are willing to give the shots to their own children and family, then we should feel more confident. And the news about the consequences alarms us, when this whole thing should comfort us. Sounds like it was quite an ordeal just to get the shots, but at least you got candy--like a big girl should.
I hope you all continue to feel okay, and you have to hope that it was a smart thing to do.
Love you,
Mum