Today, in an unprecedented move, I am joining hundreds of other columnists around the nation who will be addressing the flu vaccination crisis while simultaneously wiping "Influenza blowback" from their computer monitors. For those unfamiliar with this term, here's how it might be used on an episode of CSI:




"Well, judging from the chew marks on this Robitussin safety cap, and the presence of oozing and gelatinous Influenza blowback on his computer monitor, I'd say our suspect has the flu. [Cut to lightening-quick journey through mucus-filled nasal cavity]. Chances are, he's still in the area. Maybe even in this very room."




"Ahhh-CHOO!"




"Gesundheit. the way, which investigation team did you say you're from?"




While national attention remains on the shortage of flu vaccine, health department officials say, as a result of the vaccine crisis, we are now facing what was once unthinkable.




"The nation's supply of facial tissue has become dangerously low," warned Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. "If we're not careful, many Americans will be left using standard bathroom tissue during the peak of flu season."




This warning prompted an emergency meeting on Capitol Hill where top health officials were questioned about the oversight. However, the session was unexpectedly cut short when committee members were forced to evacuate after Senator Ted Kennedy sneezed. A photographer who was seated directly in front of the senator is reported to be in stable condition at a nearby psychiatric hospital.




Senator Kennedy later released a statement saying, although unfortunate, the incident illustrates an important point, "Which is, regardless of what you might have heard, my face does not get any larger when I sneeze. As I've said before, my face getting any larger is &

and will remain &

a physical impossibility."




According to health officials, the current crisis began when Chinese regulators unexpectedly shut down tissue manufacturer Bung Corp. last Tuesday after it was discovered that millions of boxes bound for the U.S. had been printed without the necessary safety instructions required by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.




Clark T. Randt, America's ambassador to China, immediately flew to the factory where he demonstrated, before a panel of regulators, that he was capable of using the instructionless tissue without injury. In spite of multiple demonstrations, including one in which Randt, bound by Chinese finger cuffs, was forced to blow his nose with the help of a blindfolded aid, Chinese regulators remained unconvinced.




As a result, 43 million boxes of tissue once bound for the U.S. has been shipped to France where, according to one French official, "It will be stuffed into jackets and used as body armor."




Faced with the impending shortage, the CDC introduced a nationwide "voluntary rationing" system yesterday to ensure that supplies of tissue would meet the needs of high-risk users in the months ahead.




"The bottom line is, don't blow your nose until absolutely necessary," advised Dr. Gerberding. "This is a time of crisis. I think, as Americans, we should all be willing to overlook a few snot bubbles."




As a responsible member of the media, I plan to do my part by blowing my nose as little as possible until this crisis passes.




For those of you planning to attend any of my speaking engagements in the near future, let me apologize in advance to anyone seated in the front row.




You can write to at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439. Or visit his website at /blog/