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Panel: Fear, misinformation hamper efforts to immunize minority groups against H1N1

Safety fears, misinformation and a distrust of doctors hamper efforts to persuade members of minority groups to get vaccinated against the H1N1 flu strain, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials told ethnic media leaders Nov. 5.

“The biggest disparity I’ve seen is … a disparity of knowledge,” CDC spokesman Alan Janssen said at a forum organized by New America Media, a nonprofit advocacy group for ethnic media outlets.

Three CDC representatives participated in a panel discussion that also included Dr. Corey Hebert, medical editor for WDSU-TV in New Orleans.

Arleen Porcell-Pharr, a CDC spokeswoman, noted that many Hispanics, even those with health insurance, put their trust in herbal healers and natural remedies.

“Try your herbs, try your garlic,” she said. “But don’t forget to get your vaccine.”

Panelists stressed that while natural remedies can bolster the immune system, the H1N1 vaccine has been scientifically proven to work.

Janssen said some minorities in low-paying jobs are unwilling to take sick days out of fear that they can be easily replaced.

“Instead of worrying about sick days, consider the vaccine,” he said. “Think about what you can do to protect yourself and others.”

Hebert noted that people with lower incomes are most vulnerable to the flu.

“In America, it sucks to be poor,” he said. “You always get the short end of the stick.”

Janssen urged members of the audience to help spread the word that the H1N1 vaccine is safe and to direct readers and viewers to reliable sources of information.

“It’s really not a new vaccine,” he said. “If this had shown up earlier, it would’ve been included in the seasonal flu vaccine.”

Porcell-Pharr said that people should trust their doctors, churches and community leaders and follow simple steps to keep themselves from getting infected or infecting someone else.

“This sounds trite: Wash your hands, wash your hands, cover your cough,” she said. “We wouldn’t tell you these things if they didn’t work.”

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