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Flu shot follies – normalizing private health care

Left JAB by John Bell

October 12, 2020

In response to a social media ad for Loblaws, offering the flu shot without appointment at its grocery stores, one woman raised a concern I share:

“This may the first year we've ever NOT gotten it as I don't want to risk (immunocomp'd) going into a pharmacy/store. If you offered it outside (maybe under an awning or a drive-thru) we'd be there with bells on.”

Loblaw’s responded with admirable personalized attention, befitting it new role of health care provider:

“Hi Margaret, With our PC Express grocery you can order online, park your car in the designated spot and the store will bring out your order and place it in your trunk.”

If they really expect poor immune deficient Marg to climb in the boot and roll up her sleeve, or worse, to drop trousers, this auto-reply info is very poor medical advice.

The situation surrounding Ontario’s flu vaccine roll out is anything but a joke.

Another woman noted that her own doctor had not received any of the vaccine, but the grocery store in the same building had received 60 doses, a supply which ran out almost immediately. Her comment was “Crazy, eh.”

It isn’t crazy, it is deliberate, it is insidious and it is all about privatization.

The Doug Ford government has made the flu shot available at Loblaws and its vassal Shoppers Drug Mart. But it isn't available at Toronto General Hospital, Toronto's biggest public health care provider.

And it has made the vaccine available in short supply. It has created a clamour for the drug that would make any advertising executive drool. The flu shot is this year’s Tickle-Me Elmo.

I am immune suppressed and extremely vulnerable. Except for essential trips to hospital I never leave my home. I have 2 people in my "bubble" aside from Wheeltrans drivers and medical personnel, all of whom have strict PPE regimens. 

A study from Quebec has shown that retail stores and particularly drug stores are frequent sites of COVID spread. Drug stores in particular are where sick people go to try to self-medicate. And stores may or may not observe public health protocols. I haven't been in a store since February and don't want to risk it now.

I am in hospital 3 times a week for dialysis. I, and many other kidney disease patients, are at high risk from flu or any other infectious disease. For me it can be lethal. I have asked my medical team to provide the flu shot. Two days ago, a week after news broke that inoculations were ready, I was told shots would be available "next month".

I went full Karen and asked to speak to the manager – the doctor on call. I tried to make it clear I wasn't trying to be nasty to any individual nurses or doctors, but asked why life-saving medicine was not available first to those who need it most. This is triage 101.

I was met with evasive, shamed looks, shoulder shrugs and "It's out of our control." 

Not good enough. We have to push back. But how?

I won't say this isn't about me - I'm scared shitless of getting a cold, let alone flu. Two winters ago I caught cold twice. Because of my lack of immune system I ended up in hospital with life threatening pneumonia both times. Both required a full week in strict isolation in ICU. 

By contrast, last winter I got the flu shot early, and began a strict quarantine last October. (Yes, I’ve been isolating for a full year now, so quit yer belly-aching, late comers.) The result: not so much as a case of the sniffles. Social distancing works and is far superior to being dead.

But it isn't just about me.

This about exposing a privatization agenda that goes back to both provincial and federal governments. 

Most people don’t look at it this way. They are grateful the vaccine is available and convenient. I know people who say, since the flu shot is "free" (it is paid for by our taxes) that it isn't privatization at all. 

Do you honestly think that Galen Weston is making sure you are healthy out of the goodness of his heart? He gets paid for every shot.

Payment is secondary. It gets you into Galen Weston's stores where you'll probably buy stuff as long as you're there. And it normalizes getting health services outside public institutions. 

Do we want the billionaire Weston family, who for years literally stole bread from the mouths of Canadians through fraudulent price fixing, to profit from our health care. 

Let me be clear: everyone should get a flu shot every year. I’m not above shaming people who don’t want to be bothered or, far worse, see inoculation as some sort of big pharma brain control plot. The fewer people around me who get sick, the better I like it.

And essential health care like seasonal vaccines, even without the context of COVID 19, should be universally and conveniently available. But that should be so under the auspices of public health services.

A flu shot in a grocery store is far from the most egregious example of health care privatization. But it is the sneakiest. It isn’t surgery in the deli section, just a little poke in the arm. It goes farther to normalize privatization precisely because it seems so benign, such a little thing.

But if we fail to push back on this, to raise a stink, the next step in the destruction of our public service will be far worse. One look at the austerity agenda of the likes of Doug Ford, Jason Kenney or Scott Moe knows this to be true.




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