Swine Flew


Oops. I guess that ought to be “Swine FLU,” not “Flew” – because the above is what you get with the spelling I used in the title of this post. Ah, well. Why am I dredging up dearly beloved (but admittedly long-gone) Muppet Show skits of years past? Because we have decided to enroll our family in the CDC’s clinical trials of the Swine Flu vaccine.

It’s sometimes hard to remember, but both of our children were born with conditions that make them part of the “high-risk” group that gets shoved to the front of the line for flu vaccine every year, even in years when they don’t have enough doses to go around. If you didn’t know there is such a list, well…there is. It’s usually reserved for old people or people with compromised immune systems or other permanent pre-existing conditions which make them either at greater risk of contracting whatever strain of flu is going around each winter/spring, or people who, although they may not be any more likely to catch the flu, would be much more severely affected if they did catch it.

Meredith was born, just like her dad and his mom (and others on that side of the family) with a condition called hereditary spherocytosis. It’s a blood disorder which can lead to a number of problems, chief among them being engorgement and even possible rupture of the spleen…which is one of the organs involved in the immune system. That’s her “pre-existing condition” (see that link if you’re interested in a decent run-down about the details). And Jack had the one-in-8,000 (so I’m told) misfortune of being born with posterior urethral valves, meaning an extra flap of tissue inside his urethra, which inhibited or stopped completely the flow of urine from his kidneys to the outside while he was in utero. This results (because it can’t be addressed while the fetus is still inside the mother) in kidney damage which is permanent. Anyway, the end result is that, every year, both Lars and Beth’s physician and especially the kids’ pediatrician (the absolutely fantastic Dr. Roy Benaroch) urge us to get the kids (and ourselves) a flu shot. We’ve never had any problems (even on the few years when one or more of us didn’t get the shot), but given their urging, we figure it’s probably a good thing to do.

I’ve never put myself (or my loved ones, obviously) in as human research subjects, and truth be told, it feels kind of creepy. I mean, the whole deal here is that these are still trial runs. I’m sure that they have had to jump through who knows how many petri-dish tests which demonstrate (as far as such a thing could) that their experimental vaccine isn’t likely to be harmful to humans…but until they’ve got a large and consistent data set from trials on actual living, breathing people, there’s always the risk that something they just couldn’t foresee might wind up affecting their test subjects. I know I’m probably just being paranoid…and the reason we’re doing this is because otherwise – even with our front-of-the-line status, it might be well into winter or even later before we’d get a chance at the “official release” of this vaccine. And, even though I know most of you are still deep in the heart of summer, here in Atlanta, the kids have already been back at school with over 800 other neighborhood kids for a week now. Logic tells me that with that many little kids in such close contact with one another six hours a day, five days a week, that the lower risk is to do what we’re doing here…but I guess I just can’t shake the feeling of being a human rhesus monkey or lab rat altogether.

As I write this, Beth is probably having the needle inserted into her arm right now. Her appointment was for 8:45 (it’s 8:51 now). Mine is for 9:45, so I need to stop typing and drive downtown to the clinic. If all goes well (and our kids aren’t rejected because of their pre-existing conditions) we’ll be having the kids get their shots soon, too. Wish us luck.