The nation could be on the verge of a serious swine flu crisis – one that could strain the health system’s ability to cope with it. But many parents and health professionals are reacting to the pandemic with little more than a ho-hum and a shoulder shrug.
Only slightly more than half of parents say they plan to have their children vaccinated with doses being shipped this week. And the Washington State Nurses Association, the union representing MultiCare Health System nurses, is resisting the company’s requirement that employees either get flu shots or wear face masks when near patients.
Here are some facts worth considering by the vaccine holdouts:
• The swine flu is just taking off, and already so many people are going to emergency rooms that some hospitals are setting up triage tents.
• Nearly half of those needing hospitalization when the H1N1 virus first hit last spring were children and teens. And a quarter of those hospitalized were in such bad shape that they need intensive care; 7 percent died.
• The real test of the flu’s strength is when it strikes in winter, which Australia and New Zealand have already experienced. Those countries saw a 15-fold increase in admissions to intensive care units for lung inflammation. A third of the severely ill had no underlying health conditions that increased their risk, and more than 16 percent of patients admitted to hospitals died.
• The swine flu shots are considered as safe as the ones for the seasonal flu, and reported side effects have been few and mild. In China, of the first 39,000 people who got the shots, only four reported side effects – muscle cramps and headaches – according to the World Health Organization.
Many Americans seem to be looking at the swine flu as just an exotic variation on the regular seasonal flu. The difference is that it’s a “novel” virus – one that very few people have resistance to. It is extremely contagious and makes most victims very sick for several days. It’s particularly hard on pregnant women, children and people with existing health problems. Unless a lot of Americans are vaccinated, it could have a crippling effect on schools and businesses.
Vaccinations have played a crucial role in saving millions of lives. Think what the world would be like without shots preventing smallpox, tetanus, polio, diphtheria and other diseases that routinely killed scores in childhood.
The question parents should ask themselves is this: If I choose not to have my children vaccinated, can I live with myself if one of them dies?