Get outta my way

Peter
Peter Jackson
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Imagine Canada was the Titanic. And imagine provincial health departments were the crew. Imagine the H1N1 "swine flu" virus was an iceberg, and the H1N1 vaccinations were lifeboats.

When the crew shouted, "Pregnant women and high-risk children first," would there have been much voluntary compliance?

Imagine Canada was the Titanic. And imagine provincial health departments were the crew. Imagine the H1N1 "swine flu" virus was an iceberg, and the H1N1 vaccinations were lifeboats.

When the crew shouted, "Pregnant women and high-risk children first," would there have been much voluntary compliance?

Judging from the past week, the answer is no.

The worst thing about last week's vaccine free-for-all is that this wasn't the Titanic. There is no iceberg. H1N1, while highly contagious, does not seem to be more deadly than other flu bugs. The difference is the most susceptible people are young adults. The province recorded its first death from swine flu on the weekend: a 36-year-old woman in the central region who had pre-existing health problems.

It's true the spread of the disease is alarming. Schoolchildren are falling like dominoes. The societal disruption and the strain on health-care services are big concerns.

It's a dire situation, yes, but it's not a disaster. And it's not, as Maclean's magazine blared last month, a "fiasco."

Health issues have a sort of built-in sensationalism. If people feel there's a threat to their own physical well-being, they tend to react with a modicum of panic. It's why health is always cited as the No. 1 topic readers want more of from the media.

It's the media's responsibility, therefore, to present as clear and as factual a picture as possible, without overstating or downplaying the significance.

So, when I saw the Oct. 19 issue of Maclean's magazine, I was dumbfounded. There, on the front page, in big black letters against a red background, were the words "SWINE FLU FIASCO." Turn to the article inside and the words are there again, white on black. Above is a murky photograph of doctors milling about ominously in full protective gear - white suits, caps, masks and gloves.

Hollywood could not have staged a better killer virus scenario.

In this province - and evidently in other provinces, as well - the rollout of the vaccine has not been without problems. But most of those problems originated with the public.

I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say, "How do I know where to go?" or "How do I know whether I qualify?"

The answer? Pay attention. Read the paper, go online, watch the TV news or listen to the radio. Barring that, ask someone who does.

On Friday, The Telegram had, along with a front page story, three dedicated pages of H1N1 coverage. Information on The Telegram's website is continually updated. The same is true of broadcast media. On Friday evening, Health Minister Jerome Kennedy called the NTV newsroom and went live on air during the station's supperhour newscast. Within minutes, he was live on CBC's Here and Now.

People who complain about a lack of information or poor planning don't know what they are talking about. The public has been swamped with information. For the most part, it's been fairly balanced and straightforward.

Handling a pandemic is not exactly a cakewalk. Despite best-laid plans, viruses are unpredictable. The vaccine was developed swiftly, but it could not be rushed. And the virus had already made its comeback before a supply of the vaccine could be rolled out.

Yes, a few mistakes have been made. Federal officials underestimated the amount of vaccine needed. And plans are often changing on the fly. You could call the latter evidence of mistakes, but it's primarily a matter of officials thinking on their feet and adapting to a fluid situation.

The one mistake officials certainly did make, however, is thinking this was 1912 and that healthy passengers would stand back and let the more vulnerable pile into the lifeboats.

Not today. It's everyone for himself. And try not to knock over that sick person on your way to the front of the line.

So now, they're culling the lines and sending healthy people home. It's too bad it had to happen, but people are people, and anarchy is always just a panic button away.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Maclean's, The Telegram, CBC

Geographic location: Canada, Hollywood

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Recent comments

  • Seriously?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Watcher, I love how you assume that I also got the shot. Nowhere in my comment did I say that. Nice of you to misguidedly judge me all the same.

  • debbie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Oh come on MOM FROM NL, do you really expect Newfoundlanders to be any different than anyone else in this country. Sure we like to impress the come-from-aways, but once we are all together, it's every man for himself. I am high-risk with asthma, my two and five year olds as well have have respiratory problems in the past and we have not taken the vaccine yet. And I don't think we will.
    Is anyone else concerned about the craziness surrounding this vaccine? There is so much info out there, people should realize that it is just a flu, and flu does kill whoever it likes. Why are healthy people with uncompromised immune systems taking this vaccine? This vaccine is for ONE strain, the original unmutated strain. How long before that vaccine is irrelevant? How much damage will you have done to your childrens bodies for no reason whatsoever.
    The media is disgusting in this horrible fear-mongering. Who is benefiting here??? Is this a technique to revive the economy?
    The what ifs will kill you before the virus does!

  • Watcher
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Seriously? , your daughter is the one with the chronic illness, not you. SHE should have been given the vaccination, not you. Once she has the vaccination, your health is no longer a threat to her.

    I'm sure quite a few people justified their need this way... my son uses a puffer, give him a shot and me too, just to be safe!

  • Angelica
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    At Major's Path centre on Sunday at 12, my extremely sick son was second in line. A late-for-work Security Guard was to bring down masks to the masses who were lined up in the hall of this new facility. She walked past all the in-line sick people, opened the porch doors, laid the masks and sanitizers out there and said, 'Come and get them'.
    Complaints that she should have just given them out to everyone who was in line, in the order they came in fell on deaf ears as she antagonized the sick with 'Oh RELAX, you'll all be seen!'.
    My son, who was second in line, ended up 60th in line because those who came in last, pushed through to the first because they were nearest the masks and sanitizers.
    JEERS to that SECURITY GUARD and those who pushed past.

  • Seriously?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    This mob mentality is driving me nuts. I spent the better part of five hours standing in line outside of the Reid Centre in Mount Pearl on Friday. I was there because my daughter has a chronic illness. It was my experience that most of the people there had legitmate reasons to be there. I didn't see much evidence of line jumpers as some people are griping about. I think much of this reaction has to do with people's own misguided judgements. If you didn't look sick, or weren't carrying an oxygen tank or in a wheelchair you must be an unholy line jumper. Just because someone was able to walk into the clinic on their own two feet don't assume they didn't have good reason to be there. Seriously.

  • Mom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Excellent article. What happened to the compassion that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were so well known for? It is increasingly a world that is all about ME. The level of selfishness that has been shown by so many people is just another indication of what our society is becoming. Is is surprising to see crime on the rise when so many people have the attitude that if I want it I will have it even if it is not mine, or in the case of H1N1 vaccines not my turn? Our province was one of the most beautiful places to live in because of the people. We could take great pride in the spirit shown by generations of people that would do anything they could to help others, especially those that needed it most... not so today.

  • Seriously?
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Watcher, I love how you assume that I also got the shot. Nowhere in my comment did I say that. Nice of you to misguidedly judge me all the same.

  • debbie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Oh come on MOM FROM NL, do you really expect Newfoundlanders to be any different than anyone else in this country. Sure we like to impress the come-from-aways, but once we are all together, it's every man for himself. I am high-risk with asthma, my two and five year olds as well have have respiratory problems in the past and we have not taken the vaccine yet. And I don't think we will.
    Is anyone else concerned about the craziness surrounding this vaccine? There is so much info out there, people should realize that it is just a flu, and flu does kill whoever it likes. Why are healthy people with uncompromised immune systems taking this vaccine? This vaccine is for ONE strain, the original unmutated strain. How long before that vaccine is irrelevant? How much damage will you have done to your childrens bodies for no reason whatsoever.
    The media is disgusting in this horrible fear-mongering. Who is benefiting here??? Is this a technique to revive the economy?
    The what ifs will kill you before the virus does!

  • Watcher
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Seriously? , your daughter is the one with the chronic illness, not you. SHE should have been given the vaccination, not you. Once she has the vaccination, your health is no longer a threat to her.

    I'm sure quite a few people justified their need this way... my son uses a puffer, give him a shot and me too, just to be safe!

  • Angelica
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    At Major's Path centre on Sunday at 12, my extremely sick son was second in line. A late-for-work Security Guard was to bring down masks to the masses who were lined up in the hall of this new facility. She walked past all the in-line sick people, opened the porch doors, laid the masks and sanitizers out there and said, 'Come and get them'.
    Complaints that she should have just given them out to everyone who was in line, in the order they came in fell on deaf ears as she antagonized the sick with 'Oh RELAX, you'll all be seen!'.
    My son, who was second in line, ended up 60th in line because those who came in last, pushed through to the first because they were nearest the masks and sanitizers.
    JEERS to that SECURITY GUARD and those who pushed past.

  • Seriously?
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    This mob mentality is driving me nuts. I spent the better part of five hours standing in line outside of the Reid Centre in Mount Pearl on Friday. I was there because my daughter has a chronic illness. It was my experience that most of the people there had legitmate reasons to be there. I didn't see much evidence of line jumpers as some people are griping about. I think much of this reaction has to do with people's own misguided judgements. If you didn't look sick, or weren't carrying an oxygen tank or in a wheelchair you must be an unholy line jumper. Just because someone was able to walk into the clinic on their own two feet don't assume they didn't have good reason to be there. Seriously.

  • Mom
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Excellent article. What happened to the compassion that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were so well known for? It is increasingly a world that is all about ME. The level of selfishness that has been shown by so many people is just another indication of what our society is becoming. Is is surprising to see crime on the rise when so many people have the attitude that if I want it I will have it even if it is not mine, or in the case of H1N1 vaccines not my turn? Our province was one of the most beautiful places to live in because of the people. We could take great pride in the spirit shown by generations of people that would do anything they could to help others, especially those that needed it most... not so today.