Swine flu vaccine? “Screw you,” says the NHS*

I’m upset.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Terry and I would both be eligible for the swine flu vaccination when it became available: Terry because he is in a high risk group for serious complications (read: death) if he caught this flu, and me because I live with him and could pass it on.

Well, last week our area finally got some supplies of the H1N1 vaccine. And they’re refusing to give it to either of us. Terry called his doctor’s surgery three times last week. Each time he was told that, why, of COURSE he couldn’t have the vaccine! Only pregnant women can get the vaccine, because obviously only pregnant women can die from flu, d’uh!

Now, before I go any further here, I should first of all say that I’m all for pregnant women being vaccinated. Of course I am. They do seem to be at higher risk than most of us, and so obviously they should be one of the priority groups. ONE of the priority groups. Because, actually, pregnant women aren’t the ONLY people at serious risk from swine flu – or any other flu, for that matter. Absolutely not. Terry is a transplant recipient. Every day he takes immunosuppressants which basically leave him with no immune system whatsoever. A bad dose of flu could be really serious for him, and that’s not just my paranoia speaking: it’s what we’ve been told by Terry’s doctors, and it’s why he gets the regular flu jab every year.

He’s not getting this one, though. Because he’s not pregnant. On Friday, his doctor called him and said that, contrary to the information the NHS have been churning out for months now about how they will be offering the vaccination to people with chronic health conditions, where we live they will ONLY vaccinate pregnant women . Our health centre, which serves a population of tens of thousands of people, you see, was only given 100 doses of the vaccine and they’ve decided to use it on pregnant women only. (For the moment, anyway. If and when they get any more supplies of the vaccine, they might think about giving it to people with serious underlying health conditions, but only if there are no pregnant people to give it to first.)

And the reason for this?

The media.

Yes, Terry’s doctor admitted to him that although Terry is in a high risk group and should be given the vaccine, media pressure has forced the NHS here to make the decision only to vaccinate pregnant women. This is despite the following information, from the NHS’s own website  :

I’m on immunosuppressants. Am I more at risk of catching swine flu?
Yes. If you take immunosuppressants you have a greater risk of becoming infected with any virus, including swine flu, and will be less able to fight it off once you have it.

That’s what they say on their website. What they say in real life, however, is basically, “Good luck with that! Hope you survive the winter!” In other words: screw you.

I’m not bothered about getting the vaccine myself at this point. I would take it if it was offered, but I agree that there are people who need it more than I do. There aren’t many people who need it more than Terry does, though, and I just can’t understand why he should be refused it just because the media says so. Hell, lots of other people with chronic health problems have ALREADY been vaccinated in other parts of the county, but where we live we’ve had to wait until November to get any vaccine at all, and even then we only get enough for 100 people, all of whom must be pregnant to qualify. And that’s fair HOW?

So, I’m pretty disgusted – to put it mildly – that, by their own admission, the NHS is more interested in what the media says about them than in actually saving people’s lives. I’m outraged to find that the media now apparently gets to make important decisions on health care. But most of all, I’m just really, really frightened about what will happen if Terry gets this bug. This is the reality of life with a transplant for us. The fear never really goes away. You don’t just get the transplant and then go back to living a normal life. You have to spend the rest of your life worrying about it, and fighting endless battles to get the care you need. We don’t even have the option of going private and paying for the vaccine (which we would resent, but would do if we had to) because the private sector don’t have it, apparently. So we’re at the mercy of the NHS once again.

Terry has emailed his consultant at the hospital and asked what, if anything, can be done now. His consultant sounded almost as shocked as we were to be told that Terry “isn’t on the priority list” and confirmed that, yes, OF COURSE he should be offered this vaccine. He’s going to look into it and see what he can do to help. I’m just hoping the answer isn’t going to be “nothing”.

* Figuratively speaking