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Amid Food And Car Parts, Swap Meet Offers Flu Shots

Miguel Herrera gets an H1N1 vaccine from the Kern County Public Health Department's makeshift clinic, which was set up at a swap meet in Bakersfield, Calif.

It may be spring, but swine flu is still around. It's on the rise in some Southeastern states, and many people still haven't gotten the vaccine. California has come up with a novel approach to reach Latinos, a particularly vulnerable population. Public health officials are opening makeshift clinics at popular weekend swap meets such as the Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield.

The fairgrounds are crowded on Sundays with people looking for bargains on clothing, mattresses and electronics. It almost feels like Mexico -- the air is thick with the hot, fried scent of churros, and cowboy boots come in all sizes.

And today there's an unusual find: free vaccines.

For The Whole Family

Nurses with the Kern County Public Health Department are giving out the free H1N1 shots. People line up to get the vaccines across from stands hawking used car parts and leather belts. Yoshio Moncada of Bakersfield got his flu shot, along with his wife and three little girls.

"It was actually two reasons why we showed up today," Moncada said laughing. "For the shin guards and for the flu shot."

Moncada says that even though he has health insurance, finding time to get off work and get his whole family to the doctor was hard. And if the shots weren't here at the swap meet, would Moncada and his family get vaccinated?

"To be honest, no," Moncada said. "I would just overpass it, just like I've been doing ever since it came out. But I come every weekend, so it was easy for me to get it."

Nurse Nona Goossen says bringing the shots to the swap meet is making a difference.

"It's helping a lot," she says. "We're using up a lot more vaccines than we would of if we had them just coming in to our clinics -- because people don't think it's flu season right now."

Reaching Vulnerable Populations

Goossen says up to 1,000 people were vaccinated at the swap meet on a recent Sunday. She says they're giving out way more vaccines here than at their traditional clinics. And public health experts say the more people vaccinated, the better.

"We believe that we are not yet out of the woods in terms of the risk for H1N1," says Dr. Gil Chavez, of the California Department of Public Health.

Chavez says H1N1 rates are currently low. But to keep the virus at bay, it's important to bring vaccines to vulnerable populations. In California, he says, Latinos are twice as likely to be hospitalized or die from swine flu.

"If you can find a location where you get a large segment of the Latino community, and you can offer them vaccine in a way that is not threatening and safe, I think that it is a very good thing to do," Chavez says.

Flu Season Ongoing In Some Areas

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still encouraging anyone who hasn't had the shot to get one. Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC says swine flu activity could pick up again. Last year at this time scientists saw the swine flu outbreak take off.

Now, Schuchat says, Georgia and a few other states in the Southeast are reporting an uptick in H1N1 cases.

"We may see situations like what we're seeing in Georgia, where ongoing vaccinations could be very beneficial," says Schuchat. So what we're really asking is for this vaccine to continue to be used."

According to CDC numbers, about a third of the vaccines produced could go unused. But health officials are still trying to give out their leftover doses to anyone who wants the vaccine. To help state and local health departments fight H1N1, Congress approved $1.5 billion last year. But the clock is ticking -- the money runs out in July, so there's extra incentive for health officials to move the vaccines any way they can.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The swine flu hasn't spread as much as many had feared, but it is still lurking and many people across the country still haven't been vaccinated. Here in California, a novel approach to reach one particularly vulnerable population -Latinos. Kelley Weiss has our report.

KELLEY WEISS: The Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield are crowded on Sundays with people looking for bargains on clothing, mattresses and electronics. It almost feels like Mexico. The air is thick with the hot fried scent of churros and cowboy boots come in all sizes. Today, there's an unusual find on the fairgrounds.

Unidentified Woman: Okay. You're going to receive a shot in your left arm. Keep your arm nice and relaxed.

WEISS: Nurses with the Kern County Public Health Department are giving out the free H1N1 shots. People line up to get the vaccines across from stands hawking used car parts and leather belts.

Yoshio Moncada�of Bakersfield got his flu shot along with his wife and three little girls.

Mr. YOSHIO MONCADA: There was actually two reasons why we showed up today. For the shin guards and the flu shot.

WEISS: Moncada says he needed the shin guards for his soccer game and he finally got around to getting his H1N1 vaccine. He says even though he has health insurance, finding time to get off work and get his whole family to the doctor was hard. And if the shots weren't here at the swap meet, would Moncada and his family get vaccinated?

Mr. MONCADA: To be honest, no. I would just (unintelligible) just like I've been doing ever since it came up.

WEISS: A nurse with the Kern County Public Health Department, Nona Goossen, says bringing the shots to the swap meet is really making a difference.

Ms. NONA GOOSSEN (Nurse): It's helping a lot. We're using up a lot more vaccine than we would have if we just had them coming into our clinics, because people don't think it's flu season right now.

WEISS: Goossen says they vaccinated up to 1,000 people at the swap meet on a recent Sunday. And public health experts say the more people vaccinated, the better.

Dr. GIL CHAVEZ (California Department of Public Health): We believe that we are not yet out of the woods in terms of the risk for H1N1.

WEISS: That's Dr. Gil Chavez with the California Department of Public Health. He says H1N1 rates are currently low. But to keep the virus at bay, it's important to bring vaccines to vulnerable populations. In California, he says, Latinos are twice as likely to be hospitalized or die from swine flu.

Dr. CHAVEZ: If you can find a location where you get a large segment of the Latino community and you can offer them vaccine in a way that it's not threatening safe, I think it's a very good thing to do.

WEISS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still encouraging anyone who hasn't had the shot to get one. Dr. Anne�Schuchat is with the CDC. She says swine flu activity could pick up again. Last year at this time scientists saw the swine flu outbreak take off. Now, Schuchat says, Georgia and a few other states in the Southeast are reporting an uptick in H1N1 cases.

Dr. ANNE�SCHUCHAT (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): We may see situations like what we're seeing in Georgia, where ongoing vaccination could be very beneficial. So what we're really asking is for this vaccine to continue to be used.

WEISS: According to CDC numbers, about a third of the vaccines produced could go unused. But health officials are still trying to give out their leftover doses to anyone who wants the vaccine.

To help state and local health departments fight H1N1, Congress approved $1.5 billion last year. But the clock is ticking. The money runs out in July, so there's extra incentive for health officials to move the vaccines any way they can.

For NPR News, I'm Kelley Weiss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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