November 1, 2009

10 Million H1N1 Vaccines Expected This Week

Five pharmaceutical companies have increased production of the H1N1 flu vaccine, with an additional 10 million doses expected to arrive this week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN on Saturday.

President Barack Obama had expressed disappointment on Friday over the slow pace of production of the swine flu vaccine.

As of Friday, just 26.6 million doses had been made available, a number that falls far short of previous estimates of 40 million doses available by the end of October.

Sebelius called the initial estimates "overly optimistic", and said they were based on predictions by the five contracted vaccine makers for the U.S. -- MedImmune, a unit of AstraZeneca, Sanofi-Aventis, Australia-based CSL, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline.

But Sebelius said production is accelerating and vaccine doses are now being shipped seven days a week.

"The good news is that we have, as of yesterday, 26.6 million doses out and around the country. We are expecting another 10 million doses next week," she said.

"So the vaccine is beginning to roll in larger volumes. And it's being distributed as quickly as it comes off the line."

"It's being shipped overnight. We're getting it from producers seven days a week."

HHS initially estimated that some 20 million doses would ship every week, but vaccine makers are currently only producing only about 10 million doses per week.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the H1N1 virus has killed 114 children in the U.S. since April -- a time when there is typically no influenza in the country,

H1N1 influenza has been reported in 48 states so far, an unprecedented level, the CDC said.  Researchers at the health agency estimated this week that some 5.7 million people have been infected in the U.S. so far, resulting in at least 1,300 deaths.

During an interview aired Saturday on National Public Radio, presidential advisor David Axelrod said the administration "overpromised" the vaccine based on the drug makers' promises.

However, the situation is improving daily, he said.

"We believe that that is improving on a daily basis, and we're going to have an ample supply in very short order," Axelrod said.

After previous shortages, Sebelius said there was now a proper combination of the nasal vaccine and the nasal mist available.  The government expects sufficient vaccine doses would be available "over the next several months."

The U.S. still plans to take part in an 11-nation program to donate H1N1 vaccine to developing countries once the U.S. priority population has been vaccinated, Sebelius said.

"The first priority is to get the vaccine to the American people," Sebelius said, adding that it is also critical to vaccinate those in developing nations and refugee camps, where hundreds of thousands could die from the flu.

"That's always been the plan. It continues to be the plan."


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