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If only common sense were contagious.


So far, I have managed to escape the seasonal pestilence and I am sitting in an empty car park at The Fort shopping centre feeling mildly smug.

Smugness, like pleasure, isn't an emotion I associate with visiting The Fort or any other "retail-led experience". Today is different. For somewhere inside Boots there is a closely-guarded refrigerated vial containing a flu vaccine - and it's got my name on it.

I've got here early, at 8.45am, because I don't want to miss out. There was a rush on before the weekend and they ran out of vaccine, so I pre-ordered.

I know the jab is going to cost me pounds 12.99, which I'd rather spend on the two-albums-for-a-tenner promotion at the nearby HMV shop. I'd still have enough change for half a fish supper, too, and this niggles.

But it will be a small price to pay if the jab stops me getting ill and very grumpy and extremely irritable.

I should laugh in the face of H1N1, take avian flu on the chin and kick the Type B virus into the long grass. This sort of hysterical behaviour, running to a dispensary for a vaccination, would have been scoffed at in the Edwardian era and may have got me shot for girlishness during the Blitz. I am, however, unashamedly, a great believer in pharmaceutical intervention. If there is a manufactured chemical compound that will alleviate illness, better still prevent it, I'm up for it. I've never understood these people who refuse to take painkillers for headaches. If I get a twinge, I dose up. Pain isn't a badge of honour; pain is a pain.

It is also important to remember - indeed I would contend it is fundamental to understand - that none of this flu palaver is my fault, or the fault of any other sensible person.

The blame for the spread of the virus, which is forecast to peak in the next fortnight, lies at the door of the selfish, irresponsible parents who drop their shivering, sick offspring at the school gates knowing full well that the little blighters are unpleasantly unwell.

Throw into the festering pot the cult of office presenteeism - that perverse reasoning that dictates that colleagues will admire your tenacity in struggling into work and applaud as you cough up your guts like a TB victim, even though you are functioning as a viral timebomb - and you have the perfect storm for the spread of flu contagion.

(As I write this, someone is honking like a dying ranch hound just a few desks away. Oh, do stop it, or clear off home.) Fortunately, our daughters are now at big school, where there is a saner attitude to ill health, no doubt due to the fact older pupils are able to stay at home unsupervised as they wheeze and vomit.

It used to be a nightmare when our children were at primary school, locations which have been statistically proven to be 96 per cent responsible for the transmission of seasonal germ infection. Most schools have entirely reasonable sickness protocols which state pupils should not return to the classroom until 24-48 hours after general orifice eruption has abated. Otherwise the infected little 'un merely passes his or her lurgy to fellow pupils who in turn pass it on to their parents who then clobber everyone else in public spaces.

It's not much fun. Sometimes people get seriously ill and occasionally they die.

The problem is that very few parents take any notice of the sickness rules, which aren't really rules because they aren't enforced. Teachers are put in an invidious position and are left to clear up the mess (often quite literally) that is left behind thanks to the thoughtlessness of "professional" mums and dads, who are, without doubt, the worst offenders.

"But I can't possibly miss my 9.30. I'm indispensable."

Yes, you can - and no, you're not. While poor teachers do the rounds with sick bags, sawdust, bottles of Dettol and cold compresses, and school secretaries try to raise parents who express concern about the situation but really couldn't care less, the rest of society picks up the tab through the contraction of preventable illness and lost productivity.

Birmingham GP Prof Steve Field, a former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has been widely quoted as predicting a "children's epidemic" as schools return after the Christmas holidays. Labour, quite miserably, has tried to make political capital out of the Con-Lib Government's arguably tardy vaccination publicity campaign, but such posturing really just plays into the hands of those parents who think everything, from their child's discipline to their moral education and medication regime, is the responsibility of politicians and policy-makers rather than them.

Less than a quarter of children aged under five who are eligible for free flu jabs have had them. This isn't the fault of GPs or, for once, Whitehall. It's the fault of divvy parents who expect their every whim to be attended to by the agents of state-sponsored nannyism. There can be no excuse if the parents of children with asthma, chest disease or diabetes do not get their youngsters vaccinated.

So don't tell me the flu outbreak is a seasonal inevitability and don't cough your way into the office. As matron always said, prevention is better than cure. Stay off work and keep your sick children with you. Don't forget, we're all in this together.

(PS - I wasn't able to get my Boots jab as planned as a "dispenser" wasn't available to double check the vaccination. The store was very apologetic. I am returning.

Until then, pray for me. Life can be vile without a vial.)


Struggling in to work or school with a cold is not big and not clever
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 6, 2011
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