Saturday, October 24, 2009

Roll up your sleeves

The H1N1 outbreak shows how essential it is to provide up-to-the minute information, and how print and stale websites fall short.

It was a mad dash to isolate the strain and produce a vaccine. Canada even sought special ministerial permission to distribute the vaccine to provinces and territories before it was approved to save time dispensing it to health authorities for flu clinics. The health authority where I live received its first batch hours after that approval came this week.

I’ll bet these health authorities were flooded with calls from media and people wanting advice and wondering when the vaccine would available. Major online newspapers have H1N1 special sections with updates, features, polls, videos and other bells and whistles. Smaller online products that don’t update often do their communities a disservice by not providing timely information. The print product is always behind.

However, online newspapers that list stories that get the most hits don’t show H1N1 in their top 10 lately. Am I overestimating public interest? I hope not.

Some cities are rolling out the shots to high-risk groups first, others are making them available to everyone right out of the chute. The Globe and Mail has an interesting breakdown by province. There’s constantly changing information about whether children should receive one or two shots, whether pregnant women should wait for the unadjuvanted vaccine expected in early November or get their shot now when the outbreak is in its second wave.

Is it news or alarmist to shed light on scares about vaccines causing autism and neurological problems, or if the mercury content in the H1N1 vaccine can harm children? Canada’s chief public health officer is urging people to get the shot, and I suspect we’ll all rush out to get the money shot of the first mass vaccination clinics starting Monday in many communities.

The global death toll is nearing 5,000 -- that’s about the number of Canadians who die annually from complications to the seasonal flu. The push for vaccinations is to prevent H1N1 statistics from growing exponentially.

Media outlets big and small have a responsibility to provide the information to help people make informed decisions. When the information changes so often, that standard rises.

I’m grateful to the online newspapers that are updating often, because I’m also trying to decide whether to roll up my sleeve. I’m even more incensed at online sites that still think it’s OK to update at a snail’s pace. When it counts most, they’re asleep at the switch.

The Hyper Journalist


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