As some of you know, I make my living as a music teacher. It’s an incredibly rewarding career, and I even get to be skeptical about it every now and then. I teach at a private school, so some of the normal rules of health and safety in the school don’t apply to me. This in mind, I decided to start looking after my own neck when it comes to H1N1.
A couple of days ago, I asked my students that day if they had planned to get the vaccine. All but one said yes, and the lone dissenter proudly exclaimed that “Nope, because my mom says the vaccine has not been tested!” It can be difficult to discuss current scientific consensus regarding a vaccine to an 11-year old girl who just wants to be the next Taylor Swift, but I did my best to explain that her mother is in fact wrong, and the vaccine has been thoroughly tested.
The next day, things got a little more real. Every student I asked if they were getting vaccinated said that they would, and most of them had a few extra bits of information for me.
One student told me that over 100 students were sent home earlier in the day. Another student from a different school told me that over 200 students were sent home….all because kids were showing flu-like symptoms (understandably, the schoolboard takes this very serious). One student told me that 10 of his friends are in the hospital. Another told me that he hasn’t seen a particular friend of his in 2 weeks because of the flu.
Now I recognize that kids will exaggerate claims, or misunderstand things. But multiple people (mainly parents and fellow teachers) have confirmed the above numbers (where applicable). I live in a small-town area of Niagara, and news doesn’t travel around here as fast as it does in Toronto, so forgive me for being unable to find news links (if any are even made…this area is notoriously underestimating the seriousness of this pandemic). A few parents told me that the Niagara school board is considering closing down if this keeps up over the next few days.
Normally, I leave work feeling very satisfied: having taught a bunch of kids how to play songs by the Beatles, Eric Clapton or Led Zepplin, I get to drive home singing the songs I love that I get to share with kids. But this day seriously tried my emotional stability. No 12 year-old should ever have to say “10 of my friends are in the hospital”. One of my students, aged 9, told me that half of his class got sent home, and then proceeded to have a coughing fit into the cradle of his arm so severe that his eyes were watering.
The other day, a healthy 13 year-old boy from Etobicoke (just west of Toronto) went from infection-to-death in the span of just 48 hours. Sadly, with the current spread of anti-vaccination propaganda and misinformation, it sometimes takes a tragedy like that to shock some people into action. I’m writing this the night before posting, and I intend to get the vaccine first thing in the morning (which for you, has already happened). It will take my body 10 days to create a sufficient supply of antibodies to make me protected*. In the interim, I will still be vulnerable. Being around children (which are basically hoodie-wearing germ-factories) all day, I have gotten sick several times since I started in September. I have to accept the notion that there is a possibility, however remote, that I am already infected…possibly very recently. I have some flu-like symptoms, but only a small number of them (muscle soreness, closing throat), and it’s nearly impossible for me to tell whether or not this is the normal cycle of getting mildly ill from being around so many children all day, or something more significant. I’m already in the highest-risk group (after pregnant women and the immune-compromised): aged 30-45 with a chronic health condition (asthma), and I’m around germy-kids all day. While my body builds up the antibodies I need, I’m considering refusing to teach any child that does not have the vaccine.
More than half of my students have been directly affected by the Swine Flu, and I have 40 students. I want nothing more than to say in a couple of weeks that I am overreacting, and I’ll happily report as such. But as it stands, I’m surrounded by the Swine flu, I am very vulnerable, and will be for at least 10 days.
This week, people who are at the highest risk will get the vaccine first:
- People under 65 with chronic medical conditions
- Pregnant women (more than 20 weeks or at any stage with other medical conditions)
- Children 6 months to 5 years old
- Health care workers involved in pandemic response or the delivery of essential health care services
- First responders
- Poultry and swine workers
- Household contacts and care providers of persons at high risk who cannot be immunized or may not respond to vaccines such as infants less than six months of age and persons who are immunocompromised
No one needs to die because of this anymore. Those of us in Ontario got hit by the virus before the vaccine could get here, but we will very soon have powerful tools to fight this disease back. I’m done being angry, now I’m just sad when I read that 48% of Canadians reported that they are unlikely to get the vaccine. Let me be very clear: Not getting the vaccine has very serious risks for the individual, for the family, for the economy, and for the country.
*UPDATE* I just got back from the vaccination clinic, and the nurse who administered the injection told me that it takes 14 days, not 10, in order for the body to be fully protected.