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Why 'Chase The Flu Shot' Is An Unfair Game

Empty bottles of flu vaccine on a table. i i

Empty vials of flu vaccine sit on a table at a drive-through flu shot clinic in Napa, Calif. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Empty bottles of flu vaccine on a table.

Empty vials of flu vaccine sit on a table at a drive-through flu shot clinic in Napa, Calif.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Parents, are you looking for a way to spend time you don't have, doing something you'd rather not do? Then do what I did last Friday and play the newest game in town. The game is called "chase the flu shot." It was so much fun, I thought I'd share the rules with you.

(The whole thing says an awful lot about what exactly is wrong with our health care system.)

I'm not talking about the H1N1 vaccine, mind you. I am talking about garden variety seasonal flu shots. I was trying to find them for our children and the lady who watches them after school. In the past, we have gotten flu shots at the school for my kids, as well as their caregiver. But this year the school clinic was canceled.

Why? Not enough vaccine.

OK, so I call the pediatrician, get an appointment. So far, so good ... then, not so good. Appointment canceled a few days later.

Why? Not enough vaccine.

So, then I decided to play flu shot a go-go. I did what people in my neighborhood do. I got on the computer and asked my neighbors: Anybody have a lead on flu vaccine?

The answers poured in right away. Try this pharmacy Web site; try that store clinic. Try this doctor's office; try that government agency. I put the word out at about 7 a.m. By 7 that night, we had our flu shots. The kids' arms were sore and their eyes were a little teary, but at least they got their flu shots.

All it took me was a couple of hours of detective work, checking Web sites and calling for availability — and the pizza I let them have to reward them for being so brave and not screaming their heads off like they did when they got their shots last year.

Can I just tell you? Something is wrong with this picture.

Why should it take me every spare minute of an entire day to comply with a guideline my government and most health experts have told me to follow? What if I had the kind of job where I could not make a personal phone call — say, like driving a city bus or teaching school, for that matter? What if I didn't have the money to spare? Or a car to take me to any of the clinics I found, few of which were easily accessible by public transportation?

What if I didn't have kind neighbors, who knew what to do and were willing to share that information?

I should mention my community held what was, by all accounts, a well-organized and well-executed H1N1 clinic over the weekend, which will continue into next week. It's for those at highest risk — kids and pregnant women.

That's great, but there are other communities where people are camping out overnight to get it.

And why does this come at the expense of regular vaccines that we have all been told is part of a proactive health plan, particularly when small children are involved who may need to space out the timing of their injections?

Now, how you react to all this may depend on who you are and what your expectations are. If you look at vaccine — or health care in general — as a scarce commodity and perhaps a privilege to get (like tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert) then, by all means, we should expect to hustle for it.

But if it's a matter of a shared public interest, then why isn't it easier and cheaper to access?

Similarly, if this were a poor or developing nation with difficulty in providing access to basic goods and services then, by all means, we would expect to spend hours securing the necessities of life.

But this isn't a developing nation. The United States is a rich and powerful country and, we're constantly being told, one with the best health care in the world. But you couldn't make that case based on what's happening right now in trying to combat something as simple as the flu.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues