This fascinating story, caught on my drive time yesterday, details the challenges public health officials are facing try to deliver swine flu vaccine to remote areas in Alaska. It put me in mind about the ways we can use Story to begin a conversation with kids about a scary or worrisome thing.
In the story, NPR reporter Melissa Block inteviews Laurel Wood, whose job it is to use a network of bush pilots and Alaskan citizens to get the vaccine to remote villages in the Arctic.
Typically what happens is it goes out of Anchorage on a larger plane, arrives in a hub community where it is then redistributed again via bush planes. Often it's by people who are traveling to one of these communities and they carry it with them on the plane. One of the long histories in Alaska is of trying to deliver pharmaceuticals to these far-flung locations.
Toward the end of the story, Wood references the origins of Alaska's world-famous sled-dog race:
Certainly, people have heard about the Iditarod trail sled dog race that occurs today, that was based on the idea of trying to get diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, and we continue to do that with more modern equipment now. We might be using a snow machine or a four-wheeler in the summer as well as obviously bush airplanes. But the process remains the same. It is an interesting endeavor to try to get vaccine into some locations in Alaska. Thank goodness we have great partners to work with to make this happen.
Two books from 2002 tell the serum race story well, though in very different styles.
Togo by Robert S. Blake (Philomel)
The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller (Walker Books for Young Readers)
For more on the origins of the Iditarod itself, Booklist reviewer Todd Morning recommends Lew Freedman's Father of the Iditarod: The Joe Reddington Story (Epicenter Press 1996).
These books may not take the sting out of the seasonal flu shot, but if questions and fears about flu linger after the shot, perhaps a story about a brave team of sled dogs is a gentle way in to a conservation in which kids can get answers and reassurance. And for suggestions on what to say to your kids about H1N1, here are some tips from the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC.