Santa's H1N1 Concerns

November 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Concerns about the H1N1 flu are spreading all the way to the North Pole. Some of Santa's helpers at the malls are pushing to get to the front of the line for the flu vaccine.Santa's helpers figure they come into contact with a lot of kids and a lot of germs, so they should get vaccinated. But most of them aren't in one of the government's priority groups, so they're still standing at the back of the line.

Santa is hard at work already in the Fashion Fair mall, gathering ideas for presents for every good kid this Christmas.

At least 200 kids grab a seat there every day and helpers all over the country are well aware of the potential health risk, especially during this pandemic flu outbreak.

"They're little Petri dishes that are sitting on our laps and you have to protect them as well as yourself," said Robert Flemming, who helps Santa at a mall.

While the kids are on his lap, Fashion Fair's Santa is keeping hand sanitizer close at hand to protect himself. But his helpers are also worried about the virus spreading from one child to the next.

The concern is with Santa's suit. There's a lot of cotton on it that can catch germs -- lik on the jacket, on the sleeves, and sometimes on the gloves too.

But Fresno County health officials say the virus dies pretty quickly on dry surfaces. And with a short supply of H1N1 flu vaccines, they're not convinced Santa's helpers should move up the list to get it along with pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, and people under the age of 24.

"The current targeted populations probably account for 40% of the population," said David Lucchini with the health department, "and so far we may have gotten enough vaccine to cover maybe 15% or 16% of the county."

Fear of the flu has some parents looking for alternatives to the popular mall Santa.

At one northwest Fresno photography studio, Santa is available for individual shoots, and he won't be wearing cotton gloves.

"We're looking at little thing we can do to minimize the contact," said Craig Smith, owner of Insight Photography.

Health officials are encouraging Santa and his helpers to stay away from work if they're sick. Even Santa can't work around kids if he's sick.


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