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Whew, there’s a lot of hoopla about the H1N1 vaccination program – such as it is – here in Canada. There seem to be different rules, different protocols and different levels of access from province to province, and even from health board to health board.

I was able to get the H1N1 vaccine – and the regular flu shot while I was at it – on Wednesday, October 28 in East Vancouver, and it was an interesting experience.

As soon as I heard the shot was coming out soon, I started checking the BC flu vaccine clinic website, and calling the listings to ask if they were distributing H1N1. When I called the community centre near my house on Monday, October 26, I was finally told that they were doing an H1N1 clinic, and they asked if I wanted to leave my name and get a time to drop in. I said yes, and asked if I qualified under the rules, and when I explained my health situation they said yes, they thought I’d qualify for a jab.

I was given an appointment time to show up, and on the date of the clinic I arrived about 45 minutes early. I didn’t know at the time, but the clinic was scheduled to run only from 8am to noon. I was very lucky to have gotten a time.

When I arrived, I was greeted by several community centre staff members who really seemed to know what they were doing. One gave me the rundown on what was happening, while the other one gave me a piece of paper with a number on it – 66. I was then told to go to the gym to wait, along with about 50 other people sitting on folding chairs or standing.

It was very orderly, there was no conflict or panic.

A large proportion of the waiting people were pregnant women, and here were also some small children and people who were visibly ill or disabled. The gym was divided in the middle, and the separate section seemed to be the clinic site. There was someone at the door calling numbers, and people were entering at a rate of about one per minute. It soon became clear to those of us waiting what was happening: People were being called in to register first, then were called back to be assessed by a nurse and, if appropriate, get a shot or shots.

Not everyone who waited ended up receiving H1N1. While the BC Health Ministry announced weeks before the vaccine was due that nobody would be turned away, that had not been repeated in recent times, and it was made clear to us at the clinic that the nurses were rejecting visitors who did not qualify. While I waited, several people over 65 came out with just the regular flu shot, because they apparently had immunity from one or more of the previous Swine Flu epidemics.

After about 45 minutes my number was called for the first time, and I went through to the injection room to fill out an application and show my Care Card. I then went out again and waited some more – approximately another half hour.

When I went in to see the nurse, she was very nice and businesslike. We discussed my health issues and she confirmed that I qualified for both shots, and we discussed where to put them! Apparently (and this was borne out by my personal experience), the H1N1 vaccine causes a stronger-than-usual reaction in people, so they try to put it in people’s non-dominant arm.

The injection was quick and painless, and I managed to get home on the same transfer I went out on! Before I left (they ask recipients of the shot to sit and wait for 15 minutes after receiving it to make sure they don’t have a bad reaction), I complimented the people at the front on their organisation, and they told me that they run several flu clinics per year so they just applied that template to this project, with good success.

I must say that I DID have a strong reaction to the shot.

I was fine at first, but I got progressively sicker all day, and my right arm (the H1N1 arm) got more and more sore. The nurses at the clinic were actually recommending painkillers, they said it got that bad! By the end of the day my right arm was almost immobile, and I changed clothes with the greatest difficulty.

Despite the discomfort after, the experience was remarkably painless (from a convenience standpoint at least). I feel very fortunate in retrospect to have has such a short wait, and to have been able to receive the vaccine.

How about you? Will you be getting inoculated? Have you tried and failed to be treated at a flu clinic? Have you HAD the swine flu? Please let me know.


H1N1 alerts on the Government of Canada’s website

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