I recently stood in line for an hour at Bethesda Naval Hospital waiting to show a nurse my records so that she could tell me if I was eligible to receive a flu shot.
I am 25 and a severe brittle diabetic. My blood sugar levels are hard to control even though I am on an insulin pump. I can get a cold and end up in the hospital because of the effect any illness has on my blood sugar, so I have been getting a yearly flu shot.
The nurse told me that although my condition made me eligible for the vaccine, I had to be at least 49 to qualify.
Then I learned that members of Congress and their staffs were offered flu shots, regardless of their age or health, because they shake hands a lot. I shake hands too. I shook hands with my doctor, with the guy at the bank and with the people I interview with on a daily basis.
If I were not diabetic, I would turn down the shot so that others who need it could have it. Members of Congress who are not suffering with any disease or sickness that can be worsened by the flu should refrain from getting the shot too. With nearly 2,500 lawmakers and staffers having gotten their shots, I am glad that John F. Eisold, the Capitol's attending physician, has donated 3,000 doses of flu vaccine to the D.C. Department of Health.
The Oct. 20 front-page story about the availability of influenza vaccine shots on Capitol Hill did not reflect my experience. As a staff member of the International Relations Committee, I visited the Office of the Attending Physician in the Rayburn Building to obtain a flu shot. The nurse told me that because of a shortage of serum, injections were available only to certain groups at risk -- the elderly, pregnant women, children and those with chronic illnesses.
I told her that I had a history of asthma and that my allergist recommended that I obtain a flu shot. Only then did she administer the injection.
Reporting that those who work on Capitol Hill are a privileged class and above the restrictions applied to the general public makes a good story. But in my case, the criteria for obtaining a flu shot were the same as those applied to everybody else in the country.
DENNIS P. HALPIN
So the Senate and House should have greater access to the flu vaccine because lawmakers shake a lot of hands and then visit veterans' centers [front page, Oct. 20]? Perhaps, for now, they should stay out of those centers for the purposes of self-aggrandizement and allow those who need to be in hospitals, either to work or to be treated, to have their ration of vaccine.
I have a child who works at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) whose immune system, fortunately, is not compromised. I was shocked that all the flu shot clinics at the nation's premier facility for medical care and research were canceled.
If any government agency needs to have staff members and visitors protected from flu, it's NIH. The worried families and friends of patients there know that if they get sick they will not be able to visit their loved ones. Signs are posted everywhere telling anyone with flu symptoms to go home until they have recovered.
Just this once, politicians should have done the same as the rest of us -- washed their hands, taken their vitamins and stayed home if they were sick.
JILL A. JOHNSON-YOUNG
I am an internist in private practice in Washington. In the past I have given, on average, 700 flu shots a year. This year I received no vaccine. The only colleagues I know who have had vaccine supplies are pediatricians. I have been forced to tell my patients, many of whom are at high risk, that I have nothing to offer them and no suggestions as to where to go.
Apparently, the Office of the Attending Physician of the U.S. Capitol had adequate, if not bountiful, supplies of vaccine before its decision to donate 3,000 doses to the D.C. Health Department. While I would not expect that office to act as enforcer of the honor code suggested by President Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson [news story, Oct. 21], I would expect healthy government workers who are not at high risk to respect the code. This includes elected officials and their staff.
JOEL A. GUITERMAN