I’m getting the shot.

Normally, I don’t go for the regular seasonal flu shot. That’s because I normally live alone, and so I am not normally at great risk of contracting the flu nor at risk of passing it on to others. But I think this time I should choose differently.

I have decided that I will get the H1N1 inoculation. I have found most of the objections and criticisms of the mass inoculation rather spurious: for instance, Canada’s supply is coming from a company in Australia, which is not owned by Donald Rumsfeld. And while it is certainly true that there are other more virulent diseases out there, such as AIDS, and while it is true that disease can be reduced by reducing poverty, or increasing the amount of green space in cities, nonetheless these are separate questions from the question of whether I myself should be inoculated. Sure, I want less poverty, and more parks, and so on, but I also want to be spared a deadly disease. And I certainly don’t want to be responsible for transmitting it to anyone else, least of all the five new babies born to friends of mine in the last two years.

And sure, I want to see the corruption in our capitalist economy exposed and stopped, but if I refuse to take the H1N1 shot, I won’t really do anything to further that goal. All it will do is make me more vulnerable to the disease, and make me a potential carrier who could infect other people. And the money the government already spent to prepare the shot for me will have been wasted. By contrast, by taking the shot, I reduce the risk to me and to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other people who might pick it up from me: on city buses, in shops or workplaces, and so on. And most importantly, I demonstrate my moral and political support for Canada’s public health care system.

As it is, the public inoculation will likely spare 100,000 people an extended hospital visit, and prevent an estimated 10,000 deaths, and spare our public health care system the cost of caring for all of those people (a cost far greater than the cost of immunizing the whole country). That was the scenario described by Canada’s chief of public health, a few days ago, of what would happen if we did not immunize the country. Furthermore, the number of people who get ill from the shot itself is likely to be only two or three dozen people (not hundreds), out of thirty million. The stories of people getting sick from the inoculation tend to spread fast, because it’s exciting and scary news, and fits well into the world view of those already predisposed to distrust the government, or the drug companies, or various corporate interests. But I’ve never seen such a story coming from a clearly reputable source, such as a scientific report. I’ve only ever seen it come from scared individuals passing on chain email letters. That kind of source simply isn’t good enough for me.

In the end, I suspect that those who don’t want the shot are just people who don’t trust the government in general, or the big drug companies, and therefore must invent reasons not to trust what those institutions do, even when it is in their own best interest to reason otherwise. Perhaps some people think that the goal of getting the government out of their lives is worth the risk of death by influenza. But I don’t make my moral judgements in that utilitarian, radically individualist, and paranoid way.

Or, perhaps those who don’t want the shot are just people who get squeamish around needles. Well I’m squeamish around needles too. But I can swallow that fear long enough to get the shot, and thus potentially save a few people from dying, possibly including myself.

Here’s some information from much more reliable sources than chain-emails:

from CBC News

from Health Canada

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15 Responses to I’m getting the shot.

  1. skiegazer says:

    Brendan, I completely respect your reasons for deciding to get inoculated this year (I found myself in a similar dilemma, now that I’m around children a lot, though I have never even considered getting the flu vaccine in the past). My only concern really–and the reason I ultimately decided not to get it–is that it seems the H1N1 flu is simply not as prevalent or dangerous as people are claiming. I don’t know what information Canada has, but recently a devastating report came out from CBS about the actual number of cases in the U.S. and the CDC’s pretty obvious exaggerations and misinformation. In fact, the CDC ordered states to stop testing for swine flu back in July, at which point the confirmed cases were only 1-2% of those presenting symptoms (for the average flu, about 20% of people showing symptoms turn out to actually have the flu virus).

    In light of this, it just seems unlikely that “the public inoculation will likely spare 100,000 people an extended hospital visit, and prevent an estimated 10,000 deaths.” In the end, it seems that statement just… isn’t true. Sure, all of this is an excellent reason not to trust the government (why wouldn’t they want us to have access to the actual numbers, instead of relying on speculation based on algorithms and guess work?)… but the real issue is that the numbers we do have, in this country at least, seem to suggest “swine flu” isn’t any worse than the regular flu. And there may be good reasons for getting vaccinated against regular flue each year, but there are also plenty of reasons not to (for instance, studies that suggest regular inoculation actually weakens an individual’s immune system as they grow older).

    So… as much as I appreciate the argument of civic duty, it seems to me that in this case (as in the case of, for instance, declaring preemptive war) the call to duty and civic responsibility can only pull so much weight. I do not think it’s fair to ascribe to everyone unwilling to get the vaccine a mere paranoia about the government and a general lack of concern for others. At least in my case, it’s more akin to an unwillingness to act on misinformation and speculation simply because of the fear they create.

    • ai731 says:

      Directly contradicting the information from the CBS News report you cite, WHO statistics report that in the Americas (North, Central, and South):

      81.95% of subtyped influenza A viruses were pandemic (H1N1) 2009

      From: Americas Regional Update. Pandemic (H1N1) 2009. (published on October 26, 2009) at

      You choose to trust a CBS news report. I choose to trust Health Canada and the World Health Organization. Each to his or her own.

    • hel_ana says:

      I don’t know that I’d agree that it’s not as prevalent.. I know of 2 confirmed H1N1, 3 suspected (presumed H1N1), and more than half a dozen people who’ve been exposed to the former who’re now voluntarily quarantining themselves (some of whom have started to show symptoms), all within my first-degree of separation. My mother’s a nurse, who works (since her retirement) casually on the peds floor. They had 5 cases of hospitalized kids with flu when she was in earlier this week.

      That aside…

      “Highly unlikely to kill you” != “no big deal”

      Australia, up to October 13, has had 4886 hospitalizations, which is a small number. It’s not quite .025% of their estimated 2009 population. So no big deal, right?

      Except that .025% of the US’s population is ~87K, and .025% of Canada’s is ~9250. That’s thousands of people needing beds, ventilators and other equipment, and nursing care in systems that aren’t exactly running with huge amounts of excess capacity. In fact, it’s my understanding that they’re not running with any excess capacity at all, and emergency departments are often run at over-capacity.

      What does that mean as far as H1N1 goes?

      Consider the possibility that the public health system can’t deal with a full-on outbreak , that even though fewer than 200 of those 9K hospitalizations are likely to result in patient death, people who get into car accidents or have any other health problems, may die due to lack of beds, equipment or staff available.

      Public health’s response isn’t just about mortality related to H1N1.. it’s about keeping a working system going throughout the outbreak.

  2. lupabitch says:

    I don’t know if you folks have more vaccines than we do here in the States. I chose to not get the shot because the supplies are really limited, and I am not one of the target populations that they’re trying to get the vaccination to the most–the people who are
    most likely to die from it.

    The thing is–even if all the available shots went to low-risk people to try to keep us from giving the flu to high-risk people, we’d never be able to give it to all the low-risk people, and the high-risk folks would still be unprotected.

    So to me it just makes more sense to make sure that “my” vaccine goes to a health care worker, or a pregnant woman, or a child or elder, so they have protection against the unavoidable group of healthier, yet unvaccinated, people.

    • hel_ana says:

      Fortunately, here in Canada, they’ve paid for 50 million doses for a population of 37 million (on the assumption that they could vaccinate 75% of the population fully using two doses) — now that it’s looking pretty certain that only one dose is needed, it’s not a question of “enough”, but a question of “soon enough”

      • lupabitch says:

        *nods* That’s fortunate! Here we have people waiting in line for hours, and often the latter folks end up turned away.

        • hel_ana says:

          Well.. we’re having people be turned away, but that’s because they’re rolling out the vaccine over time; we’ve only got the one manufacturer. There’s not enough *now* for everyone, but they’ve paid for enough for everyone.

  3. Anonymous says:

    FTP – http://www.thewicca.ca

    My thoughts are similar in reasoning in having decided to get both the seasonal and H1N1 shots. Part is personal responsibility. I want to keep healthy; whether or not a flu is fatal or merely 2 or 3 days of feeling horrible, I don’t want it. Part is societal responsibility. I don’t want my son, my coworkers, or any of the dozens of people I come in contact with on a daily basis to catch the flu from myself. Flu shots are cheaper than hospitalization per person for our country over all, not to mention the problem of health care workers and other patients getting exposed to greater numbers of people with flu in the hospital.

    I’ve done my due diligence in sorting through the pros and cons on this one. In the end, the personal and societal benefits to getting the flu shot(s) simply far outweigh any potential costs. Its a personal choice people have to make, but a decision that should be based on rational reasoning not fears or doubts.


  4. Hi!

    I fully support your right to make a decision for yourself, based on your own unique scenario.

    I myself, am not getting the shot.

    Not because I mistrust the government and want them out of my life, and not because I have a fear of needles. Simply because I don’t feel there has been enough testing of this vaccine and enough safety data that I feel comfortable putting it in my own body. The various components of the vaccine have been tested in other formulations, given as components of other vaccines etc. etc., but this particular one has been produced for … ? 2 months maximum? I would not want to eat a new food product, or try a new beauty product etc. etc. that had only been on the market for 2 months.

    It is a tough decision and calls forth all kinds of ethical considerations, namely the desire to prevent infection in the masses and assist in reducing costs to our health care system. I feel these arguments too, and I feel they are compelling. Just not compelling enough for me to potentially put my own safety at risk.

    (PS If you are coming near Orangeville at all in your travels let me know!)

  5. marytek says:

    It’s a jab, not a blood draw so it should be very fast – split second and it’s done. 🙂

    I’m getting it, once the flu clinics here in Toronto calm down a bit and the high risk individuals (children, the elderly, and pregnant ladies) are innoculated.

    Though I like your note with regards to more green spaces, reducing poverty and so forth, those are issues which are outside of the immediate consideration of whether or not to take the vaccine.

  6. Anonymous says:


    I got a flu shot… but won’t be getting the H1N1.

    I did want to mention though so folks can spread the word …
    This vaccine contains shark oil… so ppl with fish allergys should not take it. Also… it is partly made in hen eggs so anyone with egg or chicken allergys should not take it as well.
    This has not been talked about widely unfortunatly.

    If you know ppl with these allergys … pass on the info.

    The info is here : http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodpharma/legislation/interimorders-arretesurgence/prodinfo-vaccin-eng.php#a1

    Chris 🙂

  7. erynn999 says:

    I have historically tended to be someone who gets sick from vaccinations, starting in childhood. Then again, my immune system is compromised to begin with, given my fibromyalgia problems. Some years I get the flu, some I don’t, so it’s been a hit-or-miss process anyway. Back in the early 90s I had a bad enough flu that I needed to go to the ER because I was too dehydrated, but they put some fluids in me and sent me home with anti-nausea drugs that helped me keep stuff down.

    I’ll admit I’m more afraid of getting sick from the vaccine than from exposure to the virus in the wild, but that’s my own personal circumstance and should certainly not affect anyone else’s decisions on the matter.

  8. Anonymous says:

    My baby sister is severely asthmatic. So were a good portion of the people who have died of H1N1 so far. If she is hospitalized because she rode in an elevator with someone too healthy/busy/paranoid to get vaccinated, I will treat that person the way I would treat someone who gave her HIV because they refused to wear a condom.

  9. admin says:

    Factual correction:
    On my “Proof of Imunization” papers, it says that the vaccine was prepared by Glaxo Smith Kline Inc., which is a British company. But it’s still not owned by Donald Rumsfeld (that was a major point of fear-mongering on that famous chain-email), so the paranoids are still wrong. 🙂

  10. gryph07 says:

    I’m planning on getting the H1N1 shot, mainly because the most recent victims in my area were two otherwise completely healthy children – a 10 year old girl and a 13 year old boy, one of whom is within 2 degrees of separation from myself. Also, my family members are teachers who work with small children, and I do not wish to be a vector. They are also getting the shot.

    That said, hopefully enough of the herd will be inoculated that those who don’t will be protected by those of us who do.

    But I am waiting until mid- to late November because I am not one of the priority groups. I just hope that this H1N1 virus doesn’t act like the flu virus in 1918, which had the most mortality in the 16-44 year old “otherwise healthy”, immuno-competent population.

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