22 Oct, Friday
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Getting vaccinated against swine flu in Brasilia

I HAD wanted to be vaccinated against swine flu for quite a while, so I was excited when the Brazilian government announced earlier this year that it was going to start a vaccination campaign for free this autumn. (Remember that Brazil is in the Southern Hemisphere, so we’re going into winter here, when the outbreak of flu is at its highest point.)

My happiness was short-lived when the Ministry of Health announced the categories of people who could get the vaccine for free at government health centers: Persons above 60 years of age with chronic health problems; pregnant women, and young people between 20 and 29 years of age. The government said that if there were any vaccines left after that, then everyone else would also be vaccinated. After the severe shortages of the H1N1 vaccine that Brazil experienced last year, I was not going to hold my breath for any leftover vaccine.

“Why don’t you just go to a private clinic?” my partner Thiago said one day when I complained to him that I didn’t fit into any of the categories that the government was vaccinating. “I’m sure you can get it done at Sabin,” he added.

So a few days ago I called Sabin and sure enough they did have the H1N1 vaccine. But at a cost: R$140, or around $80. I thought that was an okay, if a little expensive, price to pay to avoid the horridness of having swine flu and perhaps not surviving it. No appointment was needed, the helpful woman told me on the phone. “We even work through lunch,” she said.

Yesterday I drove to Sabin Vacinas and paid the fee for both the H1N1 vaccine and the first of three shots for hepatitis A+B. The nurse assured me that it was okay to take both on the same day, one in each arm, as they were made from dead viruses.

“Look, this one is made in Holland and the other one is made in Belgium,” the nurse said showing me the packaging of the vaccines and pointing out the manufacturing and expiration dates of both. “You get protection from swine flu plus the seasonal flu,” she added.

“Are you good at giving injections?” I asked warily with a nervous laugh, having had terrible experiences with clumsy nurses in the past, who would poke around looking for a vein while trying to extract my blood.

“Yes of course,” she replied with a big smile. “Don’t worry, only the hepatitis shot will burn a little.”

She gave me the H1N1 shot first in my right arm. I didn’t feel a thing. In fact I thought she had not even given it to me. The hepatitis one in my left arm burnt a little, but just for a moment.

“Your arm will be sore for a while,” she said. “But you should be fine.”

Getting up from the chair and walking to the receptionist’s desk I suddenly felt woozy like I was going to faint. I immediately sat down and put my head down between my knees.

“Keep your head up!” a kind woman doctor told me. “Do you feel like fainting? If so, keep your head up.”

She brought me water with sugar, a very Brazilian remedy for anyone feeling faint or upset, followed by coffee and a few pão de queijo (cheese breads).

“Breath deeply in and out,” she said. “You know, men are always weaker than women when it comes to needles and injections. They’re always the ones that faint.”

“Oh my! You look very pale,” said the receptionist looking at me.

“Let me take your blood pressure,” said the doctor.

After listening to my blood circulating she announced: “Your pressure is quite low. Just sit here a little and wait for it to improve.”

After chatting with them for around 15 minutes, and the doctor taking my pressure once more to make sure that it was rising to normal levels again, I bid farewell and walked to my car to drive home.

Both arms are still a little sore, which made it a little uncomfortable to sleep last night, since I’m a side sleeper, but hey, I feel safer now that I’ve been vaccinated against swine flu. Now I just need to get two more shots against hepatitis A+B. I just hope I don’t nearly faint again!