October 20, 2009

Vaccines Delayed As H1N1 Death Toll Climbs

Amidst mounting indications that flu deaths may be reaching epidemic proportions in many states, US health officials state that deliveries of swine flu vaccine may take longer than expected.

According to Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the news comes as eleven more children were added to last week's death toll, 10 of which have been confirmed in lab tests to have been from the H1N1 influenza strain.

Schuchat also noted that 86 US children have died since the swine flu outbreak began in April of this year, nearly as many as in the last three flu seasons combined.

US officials report that there are currently some 11.4 million doses of H1N1 vaccine available while another eight million have been ordered by individual state governments.

Children have been among the hardest hit demographic groups by the swine flu, and around the country concerned parents are waiting in line to have their kids inoculated at thousands of newly started state-sponsored clinics.

According to Schuchat, half of the 38 H1N1-related pediatric deaths since August have occurred in children between the ages of 12 and 17, while slightly less than half have been in children in the five to 11 age range.

For many, these numbers were somewhat unexpected, as initial reports following the flu's outbreak in Mexico indicated a considerably higher incidence in young children and infants than in adolescents.  Schuchat has warned, however, that a continued increase in deaths of older children can be expected as the US moves into the depths of flu season.

To date, 41 of the 50 states have reportedly crossed the "epidemic threshold" with the remaining 9 seeing above-normal incidences of influenza"”the overwhelming majority of which are the H1N1 strain, explained Schuchat.

"It's unprecedented for this time of year to have the whole country seeing such high levels of activity," she said.

For many, including Schuchat, the news from vaccine manufacturers that deliveries of flu treatments will be delayed is disappointing at best.  Still, producers of the vaccines say that they've simply been overwhelmed with the sheer number of orders as well as with the tedious and stringent testing procedures required for production of the vaccines.

"It doesn't look like we're going to be able to make the estimates we had projected by the end of this month," Schuchat stated, referring to earlier predictions that 40 million doses of vaccine would be ready by the end of October and reducing the projection to 28-30 million.

Nevertheless, she added that neither the CDC nor vaccine production companies would be "cutting any corners in the safety of the production of this vaccine or the testing and oversight of the vaccine."

According to Llelwyn Grant, spokesman for the CDC, the organization predicts that it will go through at least 800 million doses of swine flu vaccine this season, and that they may order more if needed.

Of the over 4,700 confirmed swine flu deaths worldwide, the World Health Organization says that over 3,400 of them have been in the Americas.


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