Santa: All I Want for Christmas is the H1N1 Vaccine
Santa groups across the nation are urging their local health departments and the federal government to consider them a high-risk group for susceptibility to the H1N1 virus this year, along with pregnant women, child-care and health-care providers, young children, and those with other chronic health illnesses that weaken the immune system.
Ernest Berger, of the volunteer group Santa America states, “We see over 2,000 children during the holiday season – sometimes five times that number. Santas will have much more exposure to H1N1 than just about every other professional you can think of.”
Santa’s helper Walter Roach of San Jose, California says “It’s more so we don’t harm the children. I’m not worried about me so much. I don’t want my child who sits on my knee to then cause the next child to be sick because I’m the carrier.”
Santa America is based in Alabama, and has 200 members in 47 states and 7 countries. They have approached members of Congress to add the group to the list of high-priority recipients for the H1N1 vaccine. The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, an international association with over 700 members, is also asking to be included to avoid the spread of the virus during the holiday season.
The Santa Claus Foundation is another group that is asking for priority status. In a comment posted to the Los Angeles Times, Santa Claus writes, “More than a month ago, The Santa Claus Foundation brought its concerns about children visiting Santas and the H1N1 flu directly to Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, who, evidently, did not share our concern.”
Unfortunately, the national shortage of the vaccine may keep Santa from getting priority based on contact alone. Unless documented cases of Santa-to-Child transmission are proven, the government is not likely to consider adding Santa to the Tier 1 list for the vaccine.
Many of the Santas may already qualify as high priority, due to their “jollier girth”, which puts them at risk for health concerns such as diabetes and hypertension. But Berger states that many of his helpers have been turned away from clinics because they do not qualify based on health reasons and older age.
Santa will take his own precautions. Many malls will have hand sanitizer available, and Santa will likely not wear his traditional white gloves, because they trap and transmit germs more easily. The Red Suit will likely be cleaned more often during the busy season and will even take precautions to keep their white beards clean.
Parents are urged to keep children away from Santa, and other people, if their child shows symptoms of illness related to either the seasonal flu or H1N1. Of course, hand hygiene will be extra important during the season of busy malls and holiday gatherings to prevent the spread of germs.