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Obama girls' flu vaccinations raise complaints

With Dad a world leader and Nobel Prize winner, Malia and Sasha Obama surely could have been first in line when vaccinations began for swine flu.
Swine Flu Obamas Daughters
The White House says President Obama's daughters weren't first in line for the hard-to-get swine flu vaccinations.But that hasn't stopped complaints online and elsewhere the young girls got preferential treatment.J. Scott Applewhite / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

With Dad a world leader and Nobel Prize winner, Malia and Sasha Obama surely could have been first in line when vaccinations began for swine flu.

They weren't, the White House says.

But that hasn't stopped complaints that President Barack Obama's daughters got preferential treatment.

"You definitely think there's some favoritism going on," said Vernon Stanley, who stood for hours in the snow Tuesday to get his 6-year-old granddaughter vaccinated near Salt Lake City.

Snarky comments began popping up on blogs and other online sites after Tuesday's announcement that the Obama girls got vaccinated by the White House doctor last week.

"We have two very compromised special needs children in our home" but can't find any vaccine, Walter Ponfick of New Braunfels, Texas, said in comments posted on a Fox News blog. "Makes me think just the important population is able to be taken care of."

Many doctors and public health experts have a different take.

No shortages in D.C. schools
For one thing, children are one of the high-risk groups the government says should get swine flu vaccine first. Even then, the Obama girls weren't rushed to the head of the line. They got their vaccine at least two weeks after the first Americans received their shots and, according to Michelle Obama's spokeswoman, only after vaccine became available to other Washington schoolchildren. And no vaccine shortages have been reported in Washington's schools.

Announcing that the girls have been vaccinated "is a great example for all families," said Dr. Judith Palfrey, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "It's an important statement about how important vaccines are."

Emory University vaccine expert Saad Omer said his research has shown that parents are likely to support immunization if they learn that their doctors have vaccinated their own children. The Obamas' decision could be just as influential, he said.

Dr. Mark Dworkin, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, agreed. And he suggested there is good reason to give preferential treatment to the presidential daughters, 11-year-old Malia and 8-year-old Sasha.

"If his children get sick with a high fever, that's very distracting for any parent, and we all want his attention focused on all the issues before him," Dworkin said. Also, if Malia and Sasha were to get the flu, their father could catch it from them.

"That's a guy I don't want to see out sick," Dworkin said.

The president and Michelle Obama are waiting until priority groups are inoculated to get their own swine flu shots, the White House says. Besides children, who have been hard-hit by the swine flu, these include pregnant women and people with chronic health problems.

The government initially said as many as 120 million vaccine doses could be available by mid-October, but because of production delays, only about 25 million had come through as of Thursday. As a result, thousands of ordinary citizens and their children have had to wait in line for shots, sometimes only to find that supplies ran out.

Despite the shortage, Jena McNeill, a homeland security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Obama girls' getting shots "is a non-issue."

"This falls right in line with what they should be doing," she said.

Walter Ponfick, the disgruntled Texan who complained to Fox News, called The Associated Press late Wednesday with an update: His kids' doctor had received a supply of vaccine earlier in the day.

"We loaded the two kids up, rushed into San Antonio, and got their shots," Ponfick said. "I still am kind of upset by the situation, but sometimes God works in mysterious ways."