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Sociology professor says H1N1 queue jumpers can blame survival instinct

TORONTO - Despite health officials imploring people to let high-risk groups get their H1N1 shots first and stressing most cases of swine flu are mild, more and more reports are surfacing of people jumping the queue to get the vaccine.

TORONTO - Despite health officials imploring people to let high-risk groups get their H1N1 shots first and stressing most cases of swine flu are mild, more and more reports are surfacing of people jumping the queue to get the vaccine.

Hockey players in both the major and minor leagues, numerous hospital board members in Ontario and Quebec, and students and staff at some private colleges in Ontario have had their shot. It remains unclear how many of those recipients fell into a high-risk category.

There have also been stories of people who don't fall into any of the priority groups joining the long lineups at public clinics.

Meanwhile, the majority of jurisdictions still haven't set a hard date for when the general public can expect to get inoculated.

At least one expert says this queue-jumping behaviour just might be people's survival instinct kicking in.

Several factors may be prompting "me first" behaviour, said Scott Schieman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto.

While he couldn't comment on specific cases, Schieman, who is also deputy editor at the American Sociological Association's "Journal of Health and Social Behaviour," said the will to survive might trump all.

"Part of it probably has to do with just levels of anxiety reaching a certain point where some people sort of feel survival takes priority," Schieman said in a telephone interview.

"Social norms that typically would provide order and a sense of fairness and help people keep a sense of calm get tossed aside by some, and that can really result in, and even make worse, a panic mentality."

The behaviour isn't typical, and most people don't jump the queue, he said. But in a crisis, some people are "not going to be able to control themselves."

On its website, the Ontario Psychological Association has posted a list of suggestions from the American Psychological Association called "Managing Your Anxiety about H1N1 Flu."

The list recommends that people keep things in perspective, and that while government officials are preparing for possible worst-case scenarios to protect the public that doesn't mean the public has to expect the worst.

It also suggests people get the facts and gather information that will help them accurately determine their risk.

A healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, exercise and rest, is also recommended as is having a plan for if you get sick or have to care for sick family members.

A variety of factors can contribute to people behaving badly, including people feeling threatened, having a lack of information, feeling they have no control and uncertainty, Schieman said.

Add to that dramatic cases of people dying.

"I think that just creates a cocktail for some people, there's a level of panic that just sets in," he said.

People like to feel secure and threats, by definition, often challenge security, he noted.

The erosion of manners may also be in play.

Schieman likens it to being stuck in traffic, and people driving along the shoulder to cut in front.

"I do wonder - people talk anecdotally-(if) there's a lack of civility," he said, pointing to the nasty public debate in the U.S. over health care, even towards U.S. President Barack Obama in Congress.

"I don't know if that feeds a general climate or some people feel like... social norms, they're not for me anymore."

When people panic they feel the rules don't apply to them, he said.

"When threat levels rise some people can't keep it together."

 
 
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