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Public Safety

SD County Urges Undocumented Immigrants To Get H1N1 Vaccine

Liliana Osorio hands out information about the H1N1 virus at a Latino Health Fair in Escondido.
Kenny Goldberg
Liliana Osorio hands out information about the H1N1 virus at a Latino Health Fair in Escondido.

Undocumented immigrants aren't normally encouraged to access county health services. But local officials say it's a different story when it comes to preventing the spread of the H1N1 virus.

At a Latino health fair in Escondido, Liliana Osorio gets the word out about the swine flu. She's the local coordinator for the UC Berkeley-based Health Initiative of the Americas.

Osorio tells people the most important thing is to prevent spreading germs. She talks about the value of hand washing, and staying home when you're feeling sick.


She asks a young boy to show her the proper way to cough.

Osorio compliments the boy about covering his cough with his arm, or with his clothes, and not with his hand.

Osorio says the crowd seems receptive.

"I have noticed that, especially the Latinos here in San Diego that are very connected with Mexico, they are very aware of the situation that happened during the outbreak in April, May in Mexico," Osorio points out. "So they are very open to the information, and they are really willing to get the vaccination as soon as it arrives."

And county health officials are anxious to give it to them.


"We need to offer protection to everyone in San Diego County, regardless of where they're from, or why they're here," says Dr. Dean Sidelinger, San Diego County's Deputy Public Health Officer.

Sidelinger says whenever the vaccine is available, it's offered free of charge at each of the county's six public health centers, and at an immunization clinic in the South Bay.

"Anyone who shows up for vaccine to one of our public health centers, who is in one of those highest risk groups, will receive the vaccine," says Sidelinger. "There aren't questions asked about residency or citizenship. We need to get that protection out, so that those people have the protection, for themselves, for their family, and for the broader community."

At one of the health centers in North County, a woman shows up with her 15-month-old daughter. Young children are considered to be at high-risk of developing flu-related complications. So parents are encouraged to bring their kids in to get a flu shot.

Public health nurse Naomi Brown asks the woman a few questions about the child's heath.

Once the questions are answered to her satisfaction, Brown escorts the pair into the clinic.

Within moments, another nurse gives the little girl a shot.

Dr. Sidelinger says the County has inoculated more than 40,000 people against the H1N1 virus. And it's distributed some 160,000 doses of flu vaccine to hospitals, community clinics, and private providers.

But Sidelinger admits there's not enough to meet demand. So far, the county has received only about half of its allotment.

"This supply is expected to be tight over the coming weeks, with additional vaccine being released on a weekly basis," Sidelinger says. "But it's anticipated that there will be limited supply, at least in the coming month, month and a half."

In the meantime, the county is working with the Mexican consulate to spread the word about the H1N1 virus. The county is also distributing small cards in Spanish with information about flu symptoms.

Officials hope once the vaccine becomes more widely available, a lot of Latino migrants will get inoculated. Officials say in San Diego County, Latinos have the highest vaccination rate of any ethnic group.

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