By Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan K. Baker
Influenza (“flu”) is a serious disease for everyone, but this year’s H1N1 influenza – commonly referred to as “swine flu” – turns out to be especially serious for our African- American, Hispanic, and Native American communities.
Last month, the Wisconsin State Division of Public Health released data showing that Wisconsin’s African Americans were three times more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to be hospitalized from H1N1 infection. Hospitalization rates for Hispanics and American Indians were twice as high as for non-Hispanic Whites. This was also true in the City of Milwaukee as well.
Death rates are worse too. Compared to non-Hispanic Whites, death rates among African Americans and Hispanics were twice as high.
There are many reasons why some groups of people might have a higher risk of infection, death or hospitalization than others. For example: lack of health insurance, difficulty accessing healthcare, and different rates of medical problems like asthma and diabetes that might make some people more likely to have severe H1N1 infections than others.
These are all serious problems in our community. The City of Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) is working hard with many partners to address these underlying issues.
In the meantime, one thing is clear – we want to continue to do everything we can help residents in our community protect themselves against H1N1 infection. And vaccination is the best protection against this serious illness.
Although it isn’t making news headlines as much as during the spring and fall, we are still seeing H1N1 infection in Milwaukee and we are worried about a possible “third wave” of illness this spring.
It has been our goal from day one to vaccinate every member of this community. Since we began administering vaccine in October, we have provided more than 25,000 vaccinations at more than 50 clinic opportunities. We provided an additional 1600 vaccines to partners at Children’s Hospital, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Marquette University, the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and others.
We employed more than 600 people from our own staff, the fire department, retired nurses and others to facilitate these clinics. We aggressively sought to vaccinate the most at-risk populations, and we were among the first communities to expand vaccination to the general public.
We are continuing to offer vaccine at walk in clinics and have plans to work with Milwaukee Public Schools, universities, private healthcare and employers around the city to hold additional public clinics.
The H1N1 influenza vaccine is safe and effective. It is made in exactly the same way, on the same equipment, and in the same manufacturing facilities as the regular “seasonal” flu vaccine. In addition, it has been closely monitored for safety since it became available in October, and there has been no evidence of any safety problems.
As Milwaukee’s Health Commissioner, I recommend that everyone in the city be vaccinated against H1N1 influenza – but it’s especially important for people who are at higher risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death from this illness. This includes children, the elderly, people who care for children or the elderly, anyone with chronic medical problems, and members of our African- American, Hispanic, and Native American communities.
I strongly encourage anyone who has not yet received the H1N1 vaccine to do so at your own doctor or clinic, or at any one of MHD’s neighborhood health clinics (no appointments are necessary). We ask you to help protect your children, your neighbors, and your loved ones by making sure that you and they are vaccinated.
Keenan Health Center
3200 N. 36th Street Tuesdays: 1-4 p.m. and Wednesdays 8-11 a.m.
Northwest Health Center
7630 W. Mill Road Thursdays: 3-6 p.m. and Fridays 1-4 p.m.
Southside Health Center
1639 S. 23rd Street Mondays 3-6 p.m., Tuesdays 1-4 p.m. and Thursdays 8-11 a.m.
If these times and locations aren’t convenient, please call the Health Department at 414-286-3521 to set up a time for vaccination.