If you're too hot, get a shot

Drumroll, please. We have rolled out the H1N1 vaccine. It's in the warehouses -- hold on, I'm being told it's now been approved by our tests, though our tests aren't complete and most of them aren't ours and we already knew most of what we now know before this. Never mind. You can get the vaccine, but not yet. And maybe not when you go for it since there's not enough for everyone so we're asking people who aren't at risk not to get it though if they go they can get it. Except in some places. Anyway, it's a Go! ...

In fact, it was CBC news who trumpeted, "It's a go!" They joined the general rollicking mood. Personally I'd like to know where to go to be inoculated against the confusion and lack of clarity surrounding this story.

How did it start? Last April, Dr. Margaret Chan, of the World Health Organization, said a pandemic was "imminent" and "the whole of humanity" was "under threat" from it. And you thought humanity was under threat from stuff like nuclear arsenals and global warming. But she may have felt she had to match some of the hysterical overstatement already abroad.

Then this summer, the bottom appeared to fall out of the panic. Under advice apparently from WHO and others, Canada decided to delay production of the H1N1 vaccine in favour of seasonal flu vaccine. This at least is how it seems to Richard Schabas, Ontario's former chief medical officer. But this fall, he says, reports of H1N1 rose again, as was predictable, since new flus normally replace old ones. The geniuses in charge abruptly tried to speed up the vaccine they'd held back, with limited, confusing results. Dr. Schabas says he has no idea why they didn't make the switch in summer. I, however, will risk a guess. Realizing they had overdone it in the spring, they underdid it to compensate in the summer, then reverted to panic in the fall. This is consistent with their consistent record of inconsistency.

So, for instance, pregnant women are at special risk and should take a particular version of the vaccine, which Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said would be ready but others say will be two weeks later than the stuff now shipping. Why did they delay that critical batch? We don't know. Some experts say get a shot now; others say wait. A TV reporter summarized the chaos: "It'll be up to pregnant women to choose which one they'll get." That isn't inconsistent, it's brutal. It's like your doctor telling you to choose between a triple and a quintuple bypass.

Why not just go ahead and die?

It's all presided over by many of the clowns who performed during the 2003 SARS crisis. There's Dr. Donald Low, who looks like one of the actors who used to play doctors on headache ads, with a "simulation" caption underneath. He and others ran off to explain to international meetings what heroes they were just as the second round of SARS hit. Or Dr. Allison McGeer, who always has the look of a character in a disaster movie. Dr. David Butler-Jones has joined the troupe. He's from Manitoba, where native reserves were denied hand sanitizers, since they contain alcohol, and body bags were sent instead. The show must go on.

The actual disease looks like it will be mild if widespread. But the clowns -- pardon, experts -- seem to have had a booster shot of PR that causes them to try to sound clear and decisive even if they're totally at sea. This in turn makes the rest of us feel crazy, since we assume it means something. (e.g., Dr. Low: "We're seeing disease now. And we're seeing increasing disease in British Columbia and we're seeing it in Ontario right now.")

It would be a relief if they shut up occasionally, if only to convey the impression that they're thinking. Instead they all act, as Groucho said to Mrs. Teasdale, as if they've been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.

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