Utah's tribes will get grant money for new flu

Health » Federal dollars will help pay for vaccination campaign.
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The Utah Department of Health will soon be giving grant money to each of the state's tribes -- and the walk-in clinics that serve them -- to prepare for a potential resurgence of the H1N1 flu this fall.

The money will pay for a vaccination campaign, Dean Penovich, the department's preparedness manager, said at a Native American Summit on Thursday in Lehi.

The tribes have already received $10,000 each to aid in planning and to help pay for equipment, such as cold-storage freezers, he said. The next round of money -- which will be based on population size -- will help pay for the distribution of the shots.

The money comes from $2.18 million the state received earlier this year from the federal government to help it prepare. Once an H1N1 vaccine is available, Penovich said, it will be shipped directly to the walk-in clinics, along with other supplies, such as syringes. In the meantime, the state's Immunization Program will make site visits to assess tribes' readiness.

As of July 9, there were 71 suspected cases of H1N1 flu in the Navajo Nation; 13 of them were confirmed, according to the Navajo Division of Health's Bio-Terrorism Preparedness Program. Nine people were hospitalized, but none died. The Tribal Epidemiology Center in Albuquerque, N.M., did not have more recent data immediately available.

David Sundwall, the Health Department's executive director, is urging tribal members to get both seasonal flu and H1N1 shots. Clinical trials for the latter, he believes, will assure that it's safe and effective.

The H1N1 flu proved to be relatively mild last spring, but this fall "it could be a more dangerous bug. We don't know," Sundwall said.

Earlier this year, the Navajo Nation received anti-viral medications from the Strategic National Stockpile, but it was only enough to cover about 10 percent of the population, said Earl Lee, a representative from Utah Navajo Health Systems. He's concerned about the potential impact the virus could have on the tribe, especially its elders, who play an important role in passing on its culture.

Community health representatives are traveling to reservation communities to remind tribal members to wash their hands, and to cough and sneeze into tissues or their shirt sleeves. But Lee said the Navajo Nation could use more assistance from the state. Emergencies, he said, know no jurisdiction.

"It [H1N1] doesn't think that way," he said.

Robin Troxell, health director for the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, said former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s original pandemic flu plan didn't specifically include tribes.

"We had to really....push a lot for the tribal governments to be included in the governor's state plan, specifically and separately," she said. Fortunately, "it wasn't a hard fight."