The line-ups stretched a half kilometer outside clinics who were offering the inaugural round of the H1N1 vaccinations. Roughly half of the hopeful shot seekers were small children whose parents had been given apocalyptic information by the television and carefully worded newspaper headlines. Toronto, a city already well versed in the art of epidemic paralysis after the SARS debacle of 2003, was now bracing itself for the Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009 – even though the meaning of the word pandemic had been redefined months earlier by the World Health Organization. Of course, someone forgot to tell the 5 million people living in the Greater Toronto Area.
But still, it could be one of the worst illnesses to hit the human race since the turn of the 20th century.
Adding to the temultuous climate in the hospitals and around the water cooler is the toxic debate regarding the vaccine itself. Is it safe? Is it irresponsible to pass on getting the shot for your children? If you do not get the shot does this mean you think the moon landing was a hoax? If you do get the shot does this mean you can’t think for yourself? Navigating through the minefield of such a debate can be exhausting, and choosing one side or the other could have severe health ramifications to say the least.
But the underlying message this ‘pandemic’ has brought to the people is not one of fear, sickness and preparations. No, this is more sinister than a few headlines and incessant talking heads. Debate over the issue has been halted, stifled, muted and even ridiculed. We see this kind of behaviour as a daily operation south of the border for issues that are naturally polarizing like health care and religion, but the two sides of the Swine Flu debate seem not only in pursuit of a more viable truth, but also to chastise the other side as gullable wing nuts whose distrust or sheepish obedience is the root cause of how far away they have strayed from the mainstream.
Still, as of today, the swine flu still has a slightly lower mortality rate than the regular, seasonal flu; and if the meaning of the word ‘pandemic’ was the same as it was in 2003, H1N1 would be considered an epidemic and likely cause less panic than we are currently witnessing. On the other hand, children have died from the illness; a virus that has a sinister modus operandi by attacking the most vulnerable in our society.
But debate should not be stifled. People should be able to express worries of both the illness and the vaccine used to try and quell that illness. If we have turned that page then the story has already been written.