Santa wants swine flu jab
Forget cookies and milk. Santa wants the swine flu vaccine.
Many of America's Santas want to be given priority for the vaccine and not just because of those runny-nosed kids. There's also the not-so-little matter of that round belly. Research has suggested obesity could be a risk factor.
Swine flu has become such a worry that the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas featured a seminar on the illness at a recent conference. The group also urged its members to use hand sanitizer and take vitamins to boost their immune systems.
The president of the organization said he also hopes parents will keep sick kids away.
"We don't want any child to go without seeing Santa, but it's not worth bringing your child to the mall, infecting the Santa and infecting the other children," Nicholas Trolli said.
He recalled a boy who informed him last year that he had a fever and had stayed home from school. But, the child said, his mother thought it was a good day to visit Santa.
Ernest Berger, president of another group called Santa America, asked an Alabama congressman last week to designate Santas a priority group for the swine flu vaccine, like health care workers or caregivers for infants.
A spokesman for Republican Rep. Jo Bonner confirmed Berger's request and said staff members were looking into it.
Berger hopes Santas will use hand sanitizers and encourage children to do the same, without turning the experience into a hygiene lecture.
Berger estimates that about two-thirds of all American Santas are overweight, and about a third are morbidly obese.
That raises health concerns because some research has suggested obesity could be a risk factor for severe swine flu.
A high proportion of those who have gotten severely ill from swine flu have been obese or extremely obese. But health officials also have said that might be due to heavy people tending to have asthma and other conditions that make them more susceptible.
The 200 or so Santas who volunteer to visit sick or grieving children through Santa America will be washing their suits daily instead of weekly and will not be wearing gloves this year so they can wash their hands frequently, Berger said.
Santa John Scheuch said he might suggest to parents that they come back another time if a child is visibly ill.
Susen Mesco, owner of American Events and Promotions in Denver, Colorado, which runs a five-day Santa school, said her Santas will be wearing gloves but changing them every three hours and washing them in anti-bacterial soap.
Dr Jodie Dionne-Odom, New Hampshire's deputy state epidemiologist, said going gloveless and using gel between each child would be the best option. She cautioned that viruses can live on unwashed hands for two to eight hours.
Dr Jack Turco, director of health services at Dartmouth College, said Santa might consider greeting children from a few feet away rather than holding them on his lap, or asking children with coughs to stand in a separate line. - AP
Published Nov 23, 2009