A tale of two flu vaccines


Bridget Christie┬áis a comedian that I love and earlier this year we went to her show about feminism, ‘A Bic For Her’. She did a bit about how people criticise feminists for having no sense of humour, but that actually the lack of equality for women is really serious and no-one ever says Amnesty International isn’t funny enough; it’s okay to be serious about stuff sometimes. Ironic that Bridget was being funny about feminists not being funny, but anyway…. I love to laugh but sometimes stuff is just annoying and there’s not much to find amusing. This post is a bit negative. I’ll chirp up next week (hopefully).

[Aside: I wrote Bridget Christie an email afterwards and she replied saying ‘it made me laugh SO MUCH’ which made really very, very happy. If you know me in real life, I will have told you this story. I tell everyone this story.]

The NHS is offering the nasal flu vaccine (Fluenz) to all 2 year olds this year. I made an appointment for Eli to see the nurse at our GP surgery, she sprayed it up his nostrils, he said it tickled, we left. Done.

Sam has a flu vaccine every winter because he is vulnerable, even minor illnesses will affect him badly and it takes him a long time to recover from bugs. Sam starts vomiting at the first hint of a fever, he struggles to manage secretions at the back of his nose and throat and loses weight quickly. The vaccine won’t necessarily stop Sam getting flu, but it will hopefully reduce how sick he gets with it.

So I made an appointment for Sam to see the nurse at our GP surgery.

She looked at his computer record and noted he was allergic to eggs. This is problematic because Fluenz is made using egg. I explained that he had Fluenz last year and had no reaction, that he has never had a reaction to egg, but has routine skin prick tests because he had a cows milk protein allergy when he was younger. According to these tests he is mildly allergic to egg white.

The nurse phoned a GP in the practice (unfamiliar to me) who was unwilling to agree to Sam receiving the vaccine right then so I suggested I get in touch with Sam’s allergy consultant (based at a hospital) to see if she could advise. Off we went.

I had an email exchange with the allergy consultant and she agreed to write a letter to our GP saying that in her view there was no reason for Sam not to have Fluenz this year since he had it last year with no reaction. The letter took a couple of weeks to arrive. The consultant offered to give the vaccine to Sam in hospital but that would mean Sam missing school.

In the meantime I got a letter from Sam’s school saying nurses would be visiting the school on Friday to give children the flu vaccine. Brilliant news! A rare opportunity for things to come to us rather than us trundling around to various clinics! I filled in the consent form explaining the egg/Fluenz issue and then forwarded the letter from the consultant when it arrived.

Yesterday the nurse in charge of the school vaccination programme called me. I launched in to a historical monologue involving much mention of eggs, noses and doctors, concluding with the fact that surely, therefore, Sam can go ahead and have Fluenz on Friday.

Apparently not. The nurses going in to schools are unable to give the vaccine to any children with an egg allergy, mild or not. She suggested I make an appointment with our GP (not a nurse) to discuss it and see if the GP is willing to approve Sam having the vaccine.

This lady was friendly, chatty, warm. Everyone we have interacted with about this so far has been helpful within their realm of power. Obviously they are being cautious because it would be awful for a child to have a serious reaction to the vaccine because they’re allergic to egg.

But I found myself crying on the phone to this nurse, trying to talk as little as possible so she didn’t realise, because why do these things always have to be so bloody time consuming? Why are our lives filled which such a huge amount of crap, involving multiple calls and trips, when time is already limited? It’s no-one’s fault but it’s exhausting.

When I called the GP surgery to explain this saga, the receptionist was great and found us an appointment later this week after school with a GP who I have known for over twenty years, who can give the vaccine himself if he’s happy to proceed. I am hopeful about that being the end of it. I saw this GP last year when I needed a ‘Fit to Fly’ letter for Sam. I had written the letter in advance to minimise his workload – the GP took this letter from me, scanned it with some magical software which converted it to text, put in on his letterhead, printed and signed it within five minutes. Anyone who has interacted with NHS bureaucracy will know that is miraculous!