H1N1 Update

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Will Humble, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, provides an update on the H1N1 virus and the vaccine. He’ll also talk about his trip to Washington, D.C. to advocate for changes to the nation’s food stamps program.

Richard Ruelas: Last week, the director of Arizona's department of health services was in Washington D.C. try to go convince federal officials to impose nutrition standards on what people can buy with food stamps. Now, DHS director Will Humble is back in Arizona and back in our studio. He also has the latest on the H1N1 virus and his efforts to reform our nation's food stamps program. Thanks for joining us.

Will Humble: Good evening, thanks.

Richard Ruelas: I don't know where to start. Let's start with the H1N1 because I expected more trouble and more people being turned away over the weekend as they (inaudible) --

Will Humble: Yes.

Richard Ruelas: -- only to a select group of people.

Will Humble: Right, because we've only really received about 6% of the vaccine that we expect to receive throughout the whole response, we're really still focusing that initial vaccine on folks with chronic medical conditions, the higher risk kinds of people. And so the vaccine clinics you saw over the weekend were geared toward those high-risk groups. Kids with complicated medical conditions, adults with complicated medical conditions caregivers of infants and the like. And by and large, the folks that showed up at the vaccine clinics were high risk categories and so they qualified and the ones that didn't qualify, actually, we're told, you know, could you wait a couple of weeks? And they would step out of line.

Richard Ruelas: But did you expect it would be a little more troublesome than what we had?

Will Humble: No, I really didn't. because really the vast majority of folks in any kind of an Public health emergency or pretty well any kind of an emergency, folks tend to stick together and understand their place in the response and are willing to help out. So I really expected exactly what we saw, which is a lot of cooperation and smooth sailing. So, you know, one of the things We're looking forward to is getting a lot more vaccine in the next few weeks. I know it sounds like a broken record because we were optimistic we'd have a lot more vaccine by now, but not there yet. And still going after the folks with the chronic medical Conditions. But we'll get to you, we'll get there.

Richard Ruelas: Are we worried yet? are you worried yet about the slow production of the vaccine?

Will Humble: Well, no, I'm not worried about it. you know, to some extent, I think what's happening here is that the CDC got out in front of this and they were giving some optimistic messaging which made it sound like here comes the vaccine in mid October, but that relied on really optimistic production assumptions from the vaccine manufacturers and they had problems with filling and capping and production line issues throughout the process and things didn't go A, B, C, D E, perfectly. And so I think what we're seeing, the fact that things didn't go perfectly in the manufacturing process to deliver on time the full load that CDC had been talking about. So that's kind of -- we're a victim, I think CDC is, of putting expectations out there that maybe they couldn't meet. Or they weren't sure they could meet.

Richard Ruelas: Like a contractor tells us that we'll be done in a may.

Will Humble: The fact is they do rely on contractor information.

Richard Ruelas: We can mark on the calendars -- when would you be worried if we didn't have the full dosages?

Will Humble: I'm never going to be worried I'm more interested in staying flexible and that's the message we give out to the public health system and the public at large. We need to be flexible and be able to adjust because it's going to throw some curves. So far, the virus hasn't changed markedly. We're in good shape there. We're fortunate we have a vaccine. We're going to have 200 million doses of vaccine nationally and we'll be able to cover. Everybody that wants to get a vaccine eventually just that it may not happen until December or January and we have to stay focused on the high-risk populations and throughout November, kids.

Richard Ruelas: And you mentioned people who want the vaccine. Is the state worried about those who believe this is a conspiracy. Or some sort of --

Will Humble: You know, that's a good question. And I always tell my staff this. Look, the thing we have control over in terms of the public health system is removing barriers and logistical problems for folks who want to get the vaccine. So the best use of our time is to make it easy for folks who do want to get the vaccine so they can get it. Make it convenient in time and space, administratively, and logistically. That's the best use of our time. If we start spending our time convincing a handful of people who think there's a problem with the vaccine, that's time we could have spent removing the logistical barriers for those who are waiting for it.

Richard Ruelas: The vaccine sells itself. D.C. trip, what made you want to go? This was your initiative, right?

Will Humble: Yes. So here's the thing. In October -- October 1st, we transitioned our state WIC program -- women, children and infants program -- to a brand new menu. Which is much healthier than the menu we had under the WIC, program for a number of years. We cut out a lot of the cheese and high-calorie stuff and sugar drinks and transitioned it more to fruit and vegetables and healthier blend of food products and we were so successful, I started to think, the food stamp program is three times bigger than WIC. it's called SNAP NOW. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But it's three times bigger than WIC. There's a lot of groceries going onto folks' shelves that were not really high-quality foods And so the fact of the matter is we've got an obesity epidemic in this country that gets worse every single year. It's getting worse across the country and getting worse every year that passes. we've got to do something to make a dent in this obesity epidemic and we've got a public health intervention right at our fingertips with the SNAP, or Food stamp program. We need to set a criteria so that folks have a clear understanding of what's a healthy food and what's not a healthy food. And we'll buy you a healthy food but if you want a candy bar or a donut that has little nutritional value, that has to come out of your pocket. By doing that, we'll start moving consumer choices, at least those in the food stamp program, toward healthier foods. Therefore, making a dent in the obesity epidemic.

Richard Ruelas: It doesn't seem that radical of an idea, but you're getting pushback already?

Will Humble: Well, the reception in D.C. was polite. They were interested in what we had to say. The USDA, they had other fish to fry you could tell.

Richard Ruelas: That chemically laden fish.

Will Humble: I'm not sure there's a lot of folks who want to take on the food processing lobby. The folks who make the foods that aren't good for you. But we've got to do something that makes good common sense. This is like you just said, this Is really a no-brainer. It's not rocket science. We're -- you know, the food stamp program is delivering a lot of groceries to Arizona shelves and we're paying for those as taxpayers and the obesity epidemic is costing a fortune in terms of Medicare and Medicaid. And in terms of public health and quality of life. All we have to do is set criteria and we can make a dent in this thing. By switching over to a healthier menu, that's not going to do it in and of itself, but it's a pretty good start and we can implement in a short period of time.

Richard Ruelas: Arizona has done a little bit with WIC. Has there been a response from customers saying they miss some of the processed food?

Will Humble: Our focus groups say the same thing. Moms want to know what they can do with these new foods. I've never made garbanzo beans. I don't know what to do with that. And so we're focusing a lot of effort in setting up recipes. So parents can present the spinach and beans in a way that kids will eat it.

Richard Ruelas: We'll look for that on the "Horizon" website, possibly. Director Humble, thanks for joining us this evening.

Will Humble: Thanks.

Will Humble:Director, Arizona Department of Health Services;

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