Additional shot site key to a flu-free fall
The first batch of seasonal flu vaccines is trickling in. And vaccines for H1N1, better known as swine flu, aren’t expected until October at the earliest. But officials from New Mexico’s Health and Public Education departments deserve credit for setting up a bigger and better system to administer the vaccines before the laboratory experts get them to market.
That’s because seasonal flu kills an estimated 36,000 Americans every year. Swine flu has already sickened a million Americans, hospitalized 8,000 and killed more than 550 — two in New Mexico. Researchers in Chicago say Hispanics and African-Americans are four times as likely to be hospitalized with swine flu, and New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil says such infectious diseases hit hardest those people living without health insurance but with poor sanitation, poor nutrition, crowded living conditions and less access to health care.
Sounds a little like New Mexico, where about 25 percent of the population is uninsured and 18 percent live in poverty. Up to 900,000 New Mexicans, including those ages 6 months to 24 years, fall into the priority group to get the swine-flu vaccine under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Just try to schedule an appointment for all those folks.
Vigil has been working with Education Secretary Veronica García to bring back school vaccination programs and plans to deputize paramedics and pharmacists who are licensed to give shots. Unlike the shot days many folks grew up with, this can be an opt-in program that requires permission slips and honors any anti-vaccine beliefs. And unlike the worst-case scenarios of swamped doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, offering inoculations at schools, pharmacies and fire stations saves everyone time, worry and an extra trip to a place filled with sick people. To paraphrase bank robber Willie Sutton, you give shots in schools and neighborhoods because that’s where the kids are.
While the CDC and vaccine companies scramble to test, produce and distribute seasonal and swine-flu vaccines, it’s important for New Mexico’s schools to get on board with the vaccination program and give parents a no-hassle option for protecting their children. That would be a real shot in the arm for an uneventful flu season.
Editor’s Note: This editorial originally appeared in the Sept. 4 edition of The Albuquerque Journal.