First Nations woman struggles with flu shot decision

Brandy-Lee Maxie, who recently moved to Regina from a reserve, says she's been under a lot of stress and anxiety this flu season — and it's all around whether or not to get the flu shot.

Brandy-Lee Maxie is relying on natural remedies to stay flu free

Brandy-Lee Maxie opted not to get vaccinated for the flu. (CBC)

Brandy-Lee Maxie, who recently moved to Regina from a reserve, says she's been under a lot of stress and anxiety this flu season — and it's all around whether or not to get the flu shot.

In 2009, Maxie got the H1N1 strain of the flu and became ill. This year, when she heard H1N1 was back and this shot might protect against it, she started to research whether or not she should get the shot.

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The more she heard about H1N1 and the number of cases of people getting it, the more nervous she got.

"It's a big challenge. It's huge," Maxie said about making the decision to vaccinate.

People are like, 'Uh, what's in that shot?' So they're questioning it for sure.- Brandy-Lee Maxie says skepticism exists about government flu shot programs

"At one point, I panicked enough to race to the doctor and try and get the flu shot for all of us, and we got rejected because we all had bronchitis."

Do aboriginal people avoid flu shots because they distrust the government? A Regina woman thinks that might be the case. (CBC)

Over a month, Maxie went online, talked to family members and asked her doctor.

In the end, the doctor did not push for Maxie to get the shot.  Since most people in her family said they were against the shot, and those who take care of her kids when she's at work felt the same way, she decided not to vaccinate herself or her kids.

"I'm still debating whether or not I made the right decision," she said.

Maxie says this is not only a debate in her family. She's seen a lot of discussion online, in aboriginal families and circles, about whether or not to get the flu shot.  

Because of the history of residential schools and other issues, many First Nations and Métis people distrust the government, she said.  

When public agencies make the vaccine available on reserve and promote it in these communities, it raises red flags.

"At one point, they were prioritizing First Nations," Maxie said.

"There's trust issues between First Nations and the government and when they say we're going to prioritize, we want to keep you healthy, people are like, 'Uh, what's in that shot?' So they're questioning it for sure."      

At the Four Directions Health Centre in Regina's inner city many clients are aboriginal.  The centre held a flu vaccine blitz in the fall.

Tina Leon, the nursing supervisor at the centre, says some people did come in with questions about the vaccine, after reading alarming things online.

Tina Leon says establishing trust is the best way to encourage people to get their flu shots. (CBC)

She says trust can be an issue with anyone coming into a centre. But the key is to find a health professional you trust.

"Very challenging," says Tina Leon. "So if there is that trusting relationship [it's] more likely that they will be able to listen to that suggestion that you pass on to them."

Maxie says for now she is using natural home remedies like Vitamin C, and using onions in bowls to absorb germs. 
She's also made sure her kids know how to properly wash their hands, and keep their hands away from their mouths.  

She'd also like to see more information before the next seasonal shot comes around, including a complete list of ingredients in the shot offered in Saskatchewan and what each ingredient is for or can do.


Confused about the Flu Shot? Fluviral (R) is one of the flu vaccines used in Saskatchewan.  Andrew Potter, a vaccine researcher with more than 30 years experience, explains what's in the vaccine, and why each ingredient is considered safe.

(In the interactive below, roll your cursor over each section for more detailed information.)

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