Santa wants to be priority on H1N1 vaccine list - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Santa wants to be priority on H1N1 vaccine list

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Forget the naughty and nice list; Santa Claus is focused on getting himself on the high-risk list to receive the H1N1 vaccine.

A national Santa organization wants all those who volunteer as Father Christmas to get immunized against the virus as soon as possible.

"There are little petri dishes that are sitting on our laps, and you have to protect them, as well as yourself," said Robert Flemming, who volunteers as Santa Claus.

After all, it's Santa's job to spread good cheer, not a dangerous virus.

"They should get the shot, not so much to protect the Santa, but to help protect the public," said Nicholas Trolli, another Santa impersonator. "We don't want our Santas getting sick because then we won't have a Santa in that particular location, 'cause it's hard to replace a real, bearded Santa once you have someone on location."

But local health care workers say there's no reason santa volunteers are any more high-risk than other people who work with children.

"It's not a whole lot different from maybe a first-grade teacher would be or the teachers in the school system," said Ellen Smith, nurse epidemiologist at St. Mary's in Madison.

Ernest Berger, president of Santa America, says it's important for Santas to get the H1N1 shot not only because they are exposed to hundreds of kids every day, but also because roughly one-third of Santas across the country are at least 100 pounds overweight.

Doctors also disagree with the Santas that high rates of obesity put Santas in the high-risk category.

"Being overweight is not necessarily make you high-risk in itself," said Smith.

Doctors say it's not urgent that these volunteers get the vaccine, especially if they are over age 55. Unless the Santa volunteer has an underlying health condition besides clinical obesity, he is not eligible to receive the vaccine at this point.

But Santa is putting up a struggle to make sure this holiday season is merry and bright, and healthy, too.

"They're putting on suits right now, and going out to visit children as we speak, and there's a possibility that they're putting themselves at risk because they have not received an H1N1 vaccination," said Berger. 

Regardless of whether Santa gets the H1N1 vaccine, he will be taking a few precautions.

Santa workers say they will not be wearing the traditional white gloves. Instead they will use hand sanitizer frequently and dry-clean their suits every day, instead of every week.

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