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CDC Advises Atlantans to Protect Communities from H1N1

New America Media, News report, Video, Anthony Advincula, video by Mike Siv Posted: Nov 22, 2009

ATLANTA, Ga --Clara Ramos and her husband Carlos just had their first baby in July. On weekdays when the couple has to work, they bring their baby to Clara's mother. Sometimes, if grandma is busy, Carlos's younger sister looks after the child.

The Ramoses, like many immigrant working couples, depend on their immediate relatives for childcare, instead of hiring a babysitter. "It's more comforting that way," Clara said. "And, it's economical, too."

But as H1N1 virus, known as the swine flu, continues to spread across the country, CDC officials said that extended family caregivers should get vaccinated to protect the baby in the family. Babies younger than six months cannot be vaccinated and therefore are at a higher risk of flu-related complications.

"We call this approach 'cocooning' because you shield the babies from the virus by protecting their adult family caregivers," Ana Rivera, public health advisor for CDCs National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a press briefing with ethnic media here on October 29.

"Because it's very common among immigrants that a grandparent, an aunt or uncle takes care of babies in the family, I even told my mom that it's the only way to stop the virus from spreading in the community," she added.

Dr. Inzune Kim Hwang, chief preparedness officer at the CDC's Influenza Division, said research shows that adults, especially those in their 50s, are less prone to H1N1 virus. "As the person gets older, the lesser the risk that the person will contract this disease because he or she may have already been exposed to a similar virus before."

However, while these adults may have high resistance to H1N1 virus, Hwang added, they may carry the virus with them and harm the infants in the household if they are not vaccinated.

The Ramoses have not yet been vaccinated against the H1N1 virus and they also don't know where to go to get it.

"Can we only get the vaccine from a hospital or somewhere else? We haven't had the chance to look at these options," Carlos said in a phone interview.

The Ramoses, in fact, are not different from millions of immigrants who have not been vaccinated since the recent H1N1 virus outbreak in the United States. In the Hispanic community alone, almost 50 percent of the population didn't get a flu shot in 2007, according to Rivera. Among young blacks between 11 and 17, about 83 percent didn't get vaccinated that year, she added.

Despite the assurance that immigrants need not disclose their immigration status when getting a flu shot at a public hospital, the hesitation is still prevalent. Absence of heath insurance and lack of education about the disease are also factors that prevent immigrants from getting vaccinated.

We know that we cant make the public easily trust the government, especially those immigrants who came from countries who dont trust their government, Hwang said. Even those who were born in the United States dont trust our government. But these challenges cannot be addressed properly without community leaders informing the people in their communities.

To curb the earlier vaccine shortage, Hwang said, the government allocated a big chunk of the federal budget to make the vaccines available, free of charge, to the general public. The federal government gives these free vaccines to states, he added, and the states distribute them to the public.

Mi Cho, a Korean immigrant, said that it is not known in the Korean community that anyone could get H1N1 vaccine for free. We have not heard this before. We have not seen any advertising that talks about it, she said.

Many Korean immigrants, Cho added, think that without a health insurance, they could not get the vaccine.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent so that the people, with insurance or not, will get vaccinated. It doesnt mean that every person will get it for free, but the states have them, Hwang said.

Tyra Bryant-Stephens, medical director of the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, said the vaccines are only free if they are from public agencies. But if you go to pharmacies or a private clinic, you definitely need to pay for it.

Although everyone in the Ramos family is documented and Clara and her husband have health insurance, she hopes to see mobile clinics make H1N1 vaccination more accessible to the people in their neighborhood.

I will make sure that my parents and siblings get vaccinated to protect our baby. But it would be great to cocoon the community [rather] than just the household, she said.

Related Articles:

H1N1: Why I'm Willing To Get Vaccinated.

H1N1 Respects No Borders

Six Things You Should Know About H1N1 Flu

I Don't Want the Vaccine

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