Why 'Chase The Flu Shot' Is An Unfair Game In her weekly commentary, host Michel Martin explains her family's recent scramble to get a flu shot for her children. Martin says the experience shed light on what's wrong with the U.S. health care system.

Why 'Chase The Flu Shot' Is An Unfair Game

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114164151/114164125" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Finally, 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 exactly what is wrong with our health care system.

I'm not talking about the H1N1 vaccine, mind you. I'm 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've gotten flu shots at the school for my kids as well as their caregiver. My husband and I get our shots at our jobs. We pay 25 or 30 bucks for each shot, which is not exactly cheap, bur compared to the risks and cost of getting laid low with the flu, we've always thought it a worthwhile investment.

But this year the school clinic was cancelled. Why? Not enough vaccine. Okay. So I called the pediatrician. Get an appointment. So far, so good. Then not so good. Appointment cancelled 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 about 7:00 a.m. By 7:00 p.m. 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 told it took me 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 brave and not screaming their heads off like they did last year when they got their shots.

But 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 during the day? 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 - who 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.

Now, that's great. But there are other communities where people are camping out overnight to get that vaccine. And why does this come at the expense of regular vaccines that we have all been told should be part of our 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 the tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert, then by all means we should expect to hustle for it. But if it's a matter of 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.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.