CDC to Detroit Media: Trust is Crucial to Dispel H1N1 Hype
New America Media, News Report, Suzanne Manneh Posted: Dec 13, 2009
DETROIT — While recent news of H1N1 suggests the virus may have reached its peak, Center for Disease Control officials say reaching out to communities to clarify serious misunderstandings remains crucial.
At a Detroit ethnic media roundtable discussion on the issue last week, Dr. Corey Herbert, medical director at the Louisiana Recovery School District and assistant professor of pediatrics at Tulane University, explained that trusting health officials and experts is the key to dispelling the H1N1 hype.
“People are not listening to the government anymore,” he said. “Why? Because ‘the government let me down.’”
“I got into a cab last night and my driver told me he no longer trusted the government,” Herbert said. His driver was a longtime GM employee, recently laid-off in the wake of the recession and was feeling taken advantage of. Herbert added that he introduced the subject of the swine flu vaccine, but his driver immediately dismissed it, and cited the Tuskegee experiment, in which researchers withheld treatment from African-American men with syphilis.
“We can’t forget the Tuskegee experiment,” Herbert said. “All of this is real, we have to embrace that this did happen, but we have also come a long way,” he added.
“There will be people who will die because of their own ignorance, but we can dispel myths,” he said. “People are getting all their information from media, and as media people, we can make this bad or we can make this good.”
But it isn’t just the media that has the power to influence, he asserted.
Community and spiritual leaders also have a responsibility to be educated and advise their communities, he said, because they are most trusted. Herbert had recently spoken with the pastor of one of New Orleans’s largest churches about H1N1, who was subsequently vaccinated in front of his congregation and encouraged them to do so, as well.
“They trust him, they don’t trust me,” Herbert said.
Dr. Felipe Lobelo, CDC Epidemic Service Intelligence Officer, underscored the need for building trust and open communications on H1N1, especially in the Latino community.
“There have been concerns in the Latino community that this virus has been made, but this is a strain of the flu virus that occurred naturally and appeared in April,” he said.
He also suggested that different ethnic communities not accessing correct information distrust the H1N1 vaccine because it “came on the market too fast,” and some believe the vaccine was only produced for pharmaceutical companies “to make more money.”
Yet he and Herbert emphasized that the H1N1 vaccine was produced with the same diligence as the seasonal flu vaccine, and was produced quickly to accommodate the 159 million people in the five groups at most risk of infection: pregnant women, health care personnel, caregivers, children ages 6 months to 24 years, and adults aged 25-64 years who have chronic illnesses.
But according to Lobelo, there is another barrier in the Latino community that isn’t as prevalent in others.
“Latinos are worried that their immigration status interferes with getting their vaccine, but there is nothing to worry about,” he said.
“It is important for the Latino community and all ethnic communities to get information from credible sources such as flu.gov, cdc.gov, where information is available in Spanish and several other languages or call the information hotline: 1-800-CDC-INFO, where calls can also be answered in many different languages,” Lobelo said.
According to Capt. Raymond Strikas, CDC National Vaccine Program officer, 70.2 million doses of the H1N1 vaccination have been produced with 60.5 million doses already ordered through out the country. He added that aside from vaccination, preventative measures, like maintaining personal hygiene, is key. “People can easily forget the simple, yet important things such as covering your cough and washing your hands,” he said.
According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, there have been 658,466 “flu-like” illnesses reported since January 1, 2009, with the majority H1N1. As of April 2009, there have been 73 “flu-like” illness deaths, with the majority also H1N1. Since September 2009, the state of Michigan has ordered and received 2,296,200 H1N1 vaccine doses. Nationwide, H1N1 is responsible for nearly 4,000 deaths and approximately 22 million infections since April 2009.
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