H1N1 influenza kills Native Americans and Alaskan Natives at four times the rate of the rest of the population, making immunizations critical for native people, say national health experts.

“The virus has hit Indian Country especially hard,” said Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. HHS secretary.   The secretary spoke at a teleconference last week to introduce HHS’s new public service announcements starring Cherokee actor Wes Studi, focus on promoting H1N1 immunization in Native populations.

Native American Web Photo
More Native Americans die from H1N1 complications because the population has a higher rate of underlying health issues, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

The health issues combined with an inability to access health care in remote reservation communities puts Native Americans at greater risk. But it’s a risk that can be lessened with H1N1 immunizations, Sebelius said. “It’s an essential lifesaving message,” she said. “Get vaccinated now.”

Nationwide, 136 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine have been shipped throughout the country. In the initial stages of immunizations, vaccines were distributed only to high risk groups such as young children and pregnant women. All Americans are now eligible for the free vaccine.

More than 60 million people have been vaccinated so far. H1N1 immunizations are available at all IHS facilities, as well as at public clinics in most states. With a third wave of the virus expected, the Indian Health Services, HHS and CDC are warning Native people not to become complacent in light of the current lull in flu cases.  The flu is an unpredictable disease. No one knows if and when the third wave will hit. What in known is that it’s extremely dangerous for some people.