I was the first one on my block to get my child vaccinated against H1N1 swine flu, but it took a three-hour wait in the cold, standing outside a county health clinic with 1,400 other flu-shot seekers. I learned firsthand that getting healthcare during a pandemic can be confusing and difficult. If we're lucky, the glitches will get ironed out as more vaccine becomes available and public health departments streamline operations. But for now, getting an H1N1 shot is an adventure.
I decided to take my daughter for an H1N1 vaccine this week after calling the county health department. The woman there told me the department had 14,000 doses of injectable vaccine on hand, and just a few hundred people had shown up for the vaccine clinic last week. Sounded like a breeze. But clearly I wasn't the only one who got the word. When I showed up at 9:45 on Wednesday with a friend and our two 6-year-olds, the line of shot-seekers wrapped around the building, past some dumpsters, and out to the street. News helicopters clattered overhead, and county police directed traffic. (Here's a local TV news report showing the long line of people waiting for H1N1 flu shots in Silver Spring, Md.) The people near the front of the line had already been waiting an hour, but we moms decided to stay, figuring we'd blown the morning and would only have to wait again if we came back another day.
Most of the people waiting were parents and children: Moms waited with new babies snoozing in slings or baby buckets; a pregnant woman behind us shivered in the cold. The 6-year-olds were happy to play on the lawn and eat gummy bears, while we moms took turn standing in line. Health workers with megaphones tried to keep us informed, but it was still confusing: Who should get FluMist, and who should get injectable vaccine? Would there be enough for all? At 12:30, we finally got inside the building, where at least it was warm. More waiting, then we were hustled into a room with workers asking, "Mist or shot?" I wasn't going to get vaccinated at all, because I'm not in a high-risk group, but the guy handing out forms said, "Go ahead," and I did. I hope that nobody who really needs it is going to miss out on an H1N1 shot as a result. My daughter was frightened by the idea of someone squirting medicine up her nose, but quickly recovered when she realized it didn't hurt. She's had no side effects from the mist, and I haven't had any from the shot.
Our adventure in pandemic flu was pretty painless, aside from the long wait and the day of missed school. I hope that other families have an easier time of it, once pediatricians get H1N1 vaccine. We'll find out; my child, like everyone under age 10, has to go back for a second dose in a month.