Swine Flu Could Hit Minorities Hard

Posted by AC Team on Friday, 16 October 2009.

New America Media Health Editor Viji Sundaram reports on the H1N1 Flu vaccination efforts. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) epidemiologist briefs an ethnic news media meeting in Los Angeles organized by New America Media.

New America Media
News Report
Health Editor,
Viji Sundaram

LOS ANGELES -- Aside from pregnant women and children, such high risk communities as African American, Hispanic and Native American should get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus because many of them suffer from chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems, said a federal health official.

Even though well be offering the vaccine to everyone who wants to get vaccinated, well give priority to the most vulnerable people, said Felipe Lobelo, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at a New America Media-organized ethnic media briefing on Oct. 13.

Nearly 20 journalists, representing the Chinese, Korean, African American and Hispanic communities, attended the event at St. Annes, a social services agency.

Were excited to be able to reach all these communities through you, Lobelo remarked.

A highly contagious form of influenza, H1N1, also known as the swine flu, was first detected in the United States this past April. Since then, the nation has seen a number of cases in nearly every state. Nearly 1 million people have so far been infected, and 600 people, including 76 children, have died from it. Around 6,000 people have so far been hospitalized.

Our priority group (for the vaccine) will be those between 6 months and 24 years, Lobelo said.

Even though the benefits of the swine flu vaccine greatly exceed the risks, and even though the CDC is making every effort to publicize this, Lobelo said he expects that around the same number of people who die each year in the United States from the seasonal flu -- 36,000 -- will die from swine flu.

He stressed that the flu shot would have what health officials call a cocoon effect, that is, it will protect not only the person getting vaccinated but all they come in contact with, as well.

For this reason, Lobelo also advised healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

The virus strikes hardest in children and young adults who have none of the immunity to the strain that older people have perhaps because they have had previous exposure to strains akin to influenza, he said.

So far, the pandemic has been moderate in severity, with the symptoms resembling the seasonal flu fever, body ache, cough and cold, Lobelo said. But he sounded a note of warning: Sometimes, the symptoms go away and return more intensely.

Children, 9 years and younger will need to get two shots, 21 days apart, because their immune response from the vaccine is different from that of older people, who need only one shot, Lobelo said.

The vaccine could be administered as a shot or in the form of a nasal spray, which is approved for healthy persons between ages 2 and 49 years, who are not pregnant and who do not have underlying medical conditions.

Alan Janssen, health communications specialist with the CDCs National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, noted that his agency is trying to share the vaccine as fairly as we can. That means, communities with larger populations will get larger number of doses of the vaccine, he said.

Thats why its important to get an accurate Census count, observed NAM Executive Director Sandy Close.

The undocumented should also get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus when the vaccine rollout program begins in Los Angeles County on October 23, said Michelle T. Parra, who directs the countys immunization program. No questions will be asked about anyones legal status, she asserted.

She said her agency would be working with the city, which has already identified several venues where people can get vaccinated. The city will embark on an intensive outreach program.

The United States expects 200 million doses of swine flu vaccine by the end of the year, as pharmaceutical companies are churning it out at unprecedented speed, but not at the expense of compromising its safety, health officials say.

The H1N1 vaccine has been created the same way as we create the seasonal flu vaccine, with the same safety and rigor, Lobelo said. The only difference is the combination of strains in the H1N1 vaccine.

Some media members at the briefing said they were not sure they were going to get vaccinated, even though they were warned how dangerous the flu could be. Melanie Polk, publisher of the L.A. Watts Times, for one.

Polk questioned the panel of speakers on why Los Angeles County had chosen to begin the vaccine rollout program in Encino and Culver City, two affluent neighborhoods, instead of some of the poorer communities.

Parra tried to reassure her that every effort would be made to ensure that all parts of the county get the vaccine.

A flu fact sheet will be handed out to all who get vaccinated, she said.

Lobelo said more information on the flu could be found on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu or www.cdc.flu.gov, or by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO.