Kate Johnson's Medical Musings

Life through the eyes of a medical journalist

Americans – if any of you don’t want your H1N1 shots, can we Canadians have them?

By Kate Johnson – October 17, 2009

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Next week I head into the four-day World Congress on Diabetes in Montreal, where delegates will be sharing a lot more than just information. Spreading silently through the air ducts will be a variety of airborne viruses, including seasonal and H1N1 influenza. Some American, Australian and Chinese delegates will arrive fully vaccinated against these things, but I and my fellow Canadians remain unprotected.

Normally at this time of year I get the seasonal flu shot because I have asthma which often deteriorates into bronchitis or pneumonia. But this year no seasonal flu shot has materialized – and it may not be available until January, my neighborhood pharmacist tells me. Meanwhile, the H1N1 shot may be available in 2 or 3 weeks, according to the latest reports.

This doesn’t help me much.

Predictions based on the 1957 pandemic indicate the epidemic may peak in late October, says an editorial in the British Medical Journal.

“It takes a few weeks to elicit a robust immune response, so vaccinated people may be protected only after the peak of the pandemic has passed,” write the authors.

I’ll have to hold my breath through the whole World Congress. Will they let me in if I’m wearing a mask?

I’ve been mulling over a simple solution to this problem, in the name of healthcare tourism. It involves taking a little trip to the States and getting a double jab before I come home. I’ve asked a few people about this plan. Two Canadian doctors have dodged the question. “While the CMAJ advocated for earlier vaccination for high-risk groups, the decision to rollout H1N1 vaccines in early November allows regional and provincial public health agencies in Canada to plan and to ramp up for vaccination,” Dr. Paul Hebert told me in an email. “Although the US has started vaccinating, they have significant issues in supply and delivery.” Yes – but what about Canadians going south for a shot, I ask? No reply.

I had my hopes up for the second Canadian doc. Dr. Richard Schabas, Ontario’s former chief medical officer, has loudly criticized the vaccine delays but I guess he didn’t want to touch this potentially hot potato.

Some Canadian docs are already more than a little embarrassed since they jumped the gun with an unpublished study suggesting weird and unproven possibilities when the seasonal flu shot precedes the H1N1 shots. Though the theory was largely shot down, the pre-publication pandemic panic hangover remains, explains Josh Freed in the Montreal Gazette:

“Several provinces are now delaying the old flu shot till they give the new one, but others are offering the old shot now. Some are giving the old shot to old people and the new shot to “new” people. Quebec, distinct as ever, won’t offer the old shot till the New Year, when regular flu season might be over,” writes Freed.

I took my health tourism question to a U.S. doc – a big shot with the National Network for Immunization Information who asked to remain anonymous. He dashed my plans. “Anyone other than a taxpaying U.S. citizen would be helping themselves to a freebie, I would venture.  Is there a law against that?  Don’t know.” But legal and ethical issues aside, he said he’d consider it good medicine. “As a doctor I’d want my patients to get immunized as soon as possible, and if I was a Canadian physician, and my patients told me they were driving across the border, I’d wish them luck.”

So, while New York healthcare workers file lawsuits over mandated H1N1 vaccination, why can’t we Canadians just take their spots for the jab, pay a fee as non-citizens, and everyone will be happy?

Of course, once I’m actually offered the vaccine, then I will face my next dilemma: should I get it? Josh Freed says maybe he’ll go to Burlington for the weekend….

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October 17, 2009 - Posted by | H1N1, Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. I agree with your comment on Schabas’s recent op-ed in the globe. Although the vaccine may be late in stemming this wave of H1N1, people should still get the shot…Subsequent waves could have higher mortality, and immunity now could help prevent that. I hate to fuel panic to jar the complacent, but the 1918 spanish flu followed a similar pattern.
    Once this disease is established (even if it doesn’t increase in mortality), most people over the next couple years will face an H1N1 challenge-many of them could have a base immunization from this shot…

    Comment by darcymeyers | October 30, 2009 | Reply


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