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Health officials check Santa off list

ST. PAUL -- Santa Claus sometimes must say "no" to a naughty child, but now health officials are saying "no" to him.

Two organizations representing department store Santas nationally asked that their members be vaccinated against H1N1 swine flu now because snotty-nosed, and possibly sick, kids breathe on them all day. But Kristen Ehresmann of the Minnesota Health Department said that is not going to happen.

Ehresmann, in charge of H1N1 flu vaccine programs, said she has heard about the Santas' requests, but the department is sticking to its policy of providing vaccine that is in short supply to those most at risk, such as young people and pregnant women.

Most Santas are older, she added, and like other older Americans are less susceptible to H1N1.

Short of a vaccination, the woman who runs a nurse hotline that gives advice to people with the flu had an idea.

"If Santa feels ill, he can call the FluLine," Terri Hyduke said, adding that the number is (866) 259-4655.

The fear of spreading the flu is real, especially in lines of children waiting for Santa. So the Health Department's Buddy Ferguson said if children, or any one else, wanting to see Santa feels ill, he should stay home. And if Santa is sick, he added, he should take time off from his holiday schedule.

Ehresmann hopes H1N1 dies out before Santa gets too busy.

"If you can't give it (a vaccination) to Santa, you really feel like a grinch," she said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.