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CDC to Boston Media: H1N1 Vaccines Coming

New America Media, News Report, Viji Sundaram/photos and video by Josu Rojas Posted: Dec 01, 2009

BOSTON -- Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to allay widespread fears that there wouldnt be enough vaccines for everyone in Massachusetts who wants to be protected against the H1N1 virus.

Even though vaccines remain in short supply, they are in the pipeline, Dr. Raymond A. Strikas, national vaccine program officer with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), told a gathering of ethnic media from the Greater Boston Area here last week. There should be enough for all those who want to take it. Be patient.

The November 20 event here at the Boston Public Library was the sixth in a series of ethnic media briefings in different parts of the country organized by New America Media for the CDC over the last two months.

Panelists and reporters covered a wide range of H1N1-related topics that were on peoples minds -- from the importance of getting vaccinated to the safety of the vaccine to myths surrounding the disease, popularly known as swine flu.

At the time of the briefing, the pandemic had claimed nearly 20 people in the state, including two children, since the outbreak began this past April.

Strikas said that although there was a slight decline in the nationwide incidence of the disease, it still remained high and may continue to be so for several weeks. Those most affected were children under the age of four.

Young children, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions are among those most at risk of complications from the swine flu.

We have the responsibility to target the vaccines to those people, said Dr. Lauren Smith, chief medical officer of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

As of November 20, state officials had confirmed more than 1,700 cases of the virus in Massachusetts, with more than 300 requiring hospitalization.

Nearly 63 percent of the flu cases currently in Massachusetts among those under 18 were swine flu. Even so, closing schools as a way to control the spread of the disease no longer has meaning, Smith asserted, noting that the more effective way was to do what her agency was doing -- providing daily guidance on how to control infection.

Students are told to wash their hands frequently and stay away from school if they dont feel well. Once they get it, they could return to school if they are free of the flu for at least 24 hours.

Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging at the HHS, said that although seniors have some immunity to H1N1, those with compromised immune systems should get vaccinated.

While the vaccination can be administered as an injection or as a nasal spray, the nasal vaccine is recommended only for healthy people aged 2 through 49. The spray is not approved for women who are pregnant, officials said.

Panelists pointed out that H1N1 differs from seasonal flu in the populations it hits hardest. The majority of deaths from seasonal flu occur in people over 65, while nearly 90 percent of deaths from swine flu are in people under 65.

Medicare pays for the cost of vaccination against both the seasonal flu and the swine flu, Greenlee said, and getting vaccinated against both diseases was important.

One of the questions most frequently asked by Hispanics is whether they can go back to work the day after they are vaccinated. They can, assured Dr. Jorge Arana, medical officer at CDCs Immunization Safety Office.

Arana warned that while it was normal for immigrants to bring vaccines into the United States, only those prescribed by U.S. health care providers should be used.

Even though attendance at the briefing was sparse, it was clear that those who came for the two-hour event wanted answers to concerns voiced by their communities.

Was there only one strain of the virus, one reporter asked. Yes, said Strikas.

Another reporter asked whether those who were injured by the vaccine could seek redress from the government. Strikas said they could.

Jane Qi, of The Epoch Times, asked whether older and newer immigrants from China had the same degree of immunity to the disease as did the elderly who had lived in the United States for a while.

Strikas said that although he didnt know what the ethnic spread was, he didnt think newer elderly immigrants were at greater risk.

Eduardo De Olivera, health reporter at New England Ethnic News, asked whether the undocumented could also access the vaccination.

Weve provided money to states to provide the vaccine, said Alan Janssen, health communication specialist at CDCs National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. He noted that health care centers are not asking that question, and, he pointed out, Were not fighting a group, were fighting a disease.

Dr. Corey J. Hebert, medical director at the Louisiana Recovery School District, said that Louisiana has reached out to the huge influx of undocumented.

But he acknowledged that it hasnt done enough to get the message out to minority communities.

We have a novel disease and a novel vaccine, said Hebert, who doubles as a radio and television talk show host. Youve got to make sure you are giving out the right information.

More information about H1N1 vaccine availability can be found at www.flu.gov.

Related Articles:

CDC Advises Atlantans to Protect Communities from H1N1

CDC Experts Dispel Myths About the H1N1 Flu

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