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Officials stress vaccine for all

State health officials took time out this week to stress the importance of all people, including blacks, being vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.

“What we’ve learned from the Centers for Disease Control, over the last year, is that 35 percent of the people who were hospitalized were African-Americans,” said state health commissioner Karen Remley in a press conference held in Hampton on Friday.

Remley went on to say that 30 percent of the deaths from H1N1 in Virginia were African-Americans, compared to only 20 percent of Virginia’s population being black.

“We need to think about vaccination in every community,” Remley said. “Not only the risk of hospitalization is higher, but also the risk of death is higher for African-Americans.”

Dr. Kermit Ashby, of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, also encouraged blacks to get the H1N1 vaccine.

“It isn’t gone yet,” Ashby said. “We tend to think of the flu as we do about the space shuttle. It goes up; it goes down; it’s not a big deal anymore. But there have been tremendous tragedies with the space shuttle, and there have been tremendous tragedies with H1N1.”

The Centers for Disease Control warn that the United States could experience another wave of flu activity soon, particularly in communities that have been relatively unaffected so far. Symptoms of H1N1 include difficulty breathing, sudden dizziness, severe or persistent vomiting, and other flu-like symptoms.

Ashby said one of his friends lost his mother to H1N1 after the outbreak first began about a year ago.

“This is not something that’s a minor thing,” Ashby said. “It’s not something to be taken for granted.”

Ashby also urged everyone to get the vaccination, even if they are afraid of needles.

“Fear is a natural thing about things we don’t know about,” Ashby said. “If you’re afraid, ask questions.”

Dr. Lisa McCoy, director of the Western Tidewater Health District, said the Suffolk Health Department is offering free H1N1 vaccines from 1 to 4 p.m. each business day.

“We’re definitely still offering the H1N1 vaccine and encouraging all citizens to take advantage of the opportunity,” McCoy said. “We want to make sure everybody knows about the opportunity and has the chance to take advantage of it.”