They blew it

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H1N1, swine flu, pandemic—call it what you will, as far as I’m concerned our governments blew it. They let us down when it came time to fight something that we knew was coming—not months ago—but years ago.

Let me say before we go any further, this is strictly a personal opinion on what I have seen unfold. Also let me say that as I write this, I have not had the H1N1 vaccine for I am not in the “high risk” or “priority” group. Also, I am not a hockey player, a basketball player or a member of some unnamed hospital boards. In addition, I do not have $2,300 or more to walk into a private clinic and buy my way to the front of line.

I, like most people, will wait until the urgent lists are taken care of and then we will have our turn. It shouldn’t have played out like this. Our governments, our health ministries, over laden with bureaucrats, should have had a plan.

They did not. They are making one up as we go along.

The shame of it all is that this type of thing has history in our country and indeed in the world. For instance, the reason those who are healthy and over the age of 65 are not considered a priority group is because health officials say they’ve been through this before in the late 1950s and probably have built up some sort of immunity which buys them time.

What that tells me is that there is some documentation somewhere that says we’ve been through a pandemic before. It would stand to reason that we could learn from it back in the ’50s. Oh sure, times have changed, but just how different is it to fight a strain of flu that we knew was coming?—indeed we knew was already here and was going to really rear its ugly head in the fall.

What about the SARS outbreak in Ontario?

We were told after it was over that it will never happen again, that valuable lessons had been learned. H1N1 is like the SARS issue only on a larger scale. What to hell have we learned?

Well, we’ve learned how to create different levels of society—those that get the vaccine right away and those that have to wait. By the way, nothing wrong with that if that’s the way it must be. We’ve learned that if you have money and fame and some semblance of stature, chances are you’re going to get an opportunity to jump the queue. After all, moms and dads can explain to their kids why they have to wait in line for hours on end, with the only opportunity at the other end, is to possibly be told, we can’t take you because we’re closed now or we’ve run out of the regular population vaccine. We never seem to run out of the you’re-rich-and-famous-vaccine.

Anyway, those are questions and issues for another day. The issue at hand right now is how did learned men and women create this mess we’re in now?

We were told through our government advertising that the H1N1 was coming and we can prepare for it by following improved hygiene practices, such as frequent washing of hands, sneezing into your sleeve, staying home from work or school if you’re sick—you’ve heard the routine. We bought into it and those hygiene practices did improve—there aren’t too many people out there who don’t carry around with them nowadays a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Absenteeism in most parts of the country is up. People are staying away from work and school although I suspect some are taking advantage of the situation, being the slackers they are.

Then the government starts another advertising campaign on why we should get the vaccine. The jury was still out on that one with some people all for the vaccine while those against just cringe at introducing some foreign substances (including the all-time favourite mercury) into our bodies through a needle.

The jury was still out until the tragic death of a 13-year-old boy from the Toronto area who complained about having a headache one day and was dead a few days later.

H1N1.

It grabbed national headlines, primarily because the lad was a healthy strapping boy who loved to play hockey and complained about his headache while at a hockey tournament in London, Ontario.

After this boy’s death, oh yeah, we bought into the vaccine. The government is telling us it’s the right thing to do and then we see the virus at its meanest. We’re in. We’re ready for the needle.

Health units across the land couldn’t be happier. People are thing about their own health but at the same time, thinking of public health. The unit personnel do what they do best—they inform and they get ready.

It was my column in August (“The Return of H1N1,” Aug. 27) when we talked to the medical officer of health of Eastern Ontario, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, who said they were ready. They had made all their plans. They had partnered with school boards and workplaces and now all they needed was the promised vaccine to carry out the work that they do best.

They, like us, were let down. Not all will agree that the higher-ups let them down but I’ve talk to other MOHs and they are not happy campers.

The senior levels of government did not have a plan. The senior levels of government did not have enough vaccine. The senior levels of government didn’t release what they had in a timely fashion and then the senior levels of government had to pick and choose who should get the first or second batches because now it was feared there would not be enough to go around.

They sold us on the concept. We bought into it and then they weren’t ready.

I don’t know how they sleep at night.

I know and you know that this pandemic (if it is one) will pass in time, but it is leaving some families in a shambles in its wake.

We were let down.

Whether or not you agree with the vaccines, the fact is, it wasn’t supposed to play out like this. When will we learn?

I’m John Divinski.

Geographic location: London, Ontario, Toronto

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