This afternoon I lurked on a conference call that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC, and White House Communications Director Anita Dunn held to give reporters and bloggers an update on where we stand in the program to inoculate all citizens who choose to participate against the H1N1 virus that has been around since last spring.  

I knew as soon as the first sentence out of Anita Dunn’s mouth contained the word “voluntary” that they had seen the articles in some of the farther-out-there sources that relied heavily on elision and innuendo to convey a scary, ominous, big-brother-is-coming-to-shove-vaccine-up-your-nose message.  And sure enough, Kathleen Sebelius would later say “we need your help fighting some rumors” that are about as factual as a Sarah Palin death panel.

Of course, I never believe that stuff, because in 25 years of medicine, I have heard dozens of such rumors of compulsory care and not one of them has ever materialized.  Ever. Not. One. It’s always hyperbole and scaremongering. But I suppose if one ever does, it will probably catch me flat-footed because I just don’t get excited until I read the cultures my damned self, if you know what I mean.  

Meantime – Even if I was terrified of my government – and I’m not – I wouldn’t believe such a rumor because I know the people with whom I served various communities all over this nation over a time span of two and a half decades. I know my colleagues in medicine. The government couldn’t undertake anything compulsory without us, and a few might go along, but mostly we wouldn’t. Belonging to Unions has taught us the power of a collective “no” and we would say it to the government too, not just hospital administration.  “What the hell?  Do you really think so little of the people in the helping professions?  We aren’t amoral goons, you know.” is what I have been known to say to people who make with that sort of  scaremongering.  I tend to get really fucking snippy when I feel like the ethics of my profession and those in it are so glibly dismissed.

Okay – I can’t put it in any plainer terms than that. So on to the substance of the call…

They are confident in the safety of the vaccine, but again stressed that it is a voluntary effort and they are trying to be as transparent as possible.  The first 6-7 million doses will be available a bit ahead of schedule, the first week of October, then by mid-October, 40 million doses will be available.  The government has bought 250 million doses, and they will be distributed free. They have also asked doctors not to charge for administering them to those who choose to take it, and many have agreed.

Kids will need two doses, and the nasal spray inoculation method works best for them, and contains no thimerosal, nor do the single-dose preloaded syringes.  Persons taking the vaccine in injection form can get their seasonal flu shot in tandem. Those opting for the nasal spray have to take them separately with a proscribed number of days between the end of one regimen and the beginning of the other.  

Now – in spite of our best efforts, people are going to get sick. Some will opt not to get vaccinated – some will get sick before they get in to take the shot.  People who get sick should stay home and have someone bring them the things they need, stay hydrated and keep eating, and not go out until they have no temperature for 24 hours.  Most people who get it will be fine, and don’t need to seek medical attention or go in for diagnostic testing.  

The people most at risk are the usual suspects:  children, the elderly and pregnant women.

Bottom line, folks, is that flu season is upon us and we need to be smart, show a little common sense, don’t be our own worst enemy – and we’ll be fine.