According to officials, an unprecedented 600 million doses of swine flu vaccine may be given this fall even though officials have not yet developed a way to administer such a large number of shots.
The campaign would be much larger than the normal 115 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine administered each year, said officials at a national vaccine advisory committee meeting.
Currently, no decision has been made as to whether the swine flu vaccination will take place.
According to health officials, the campaign could be here soon.
As many as 60 million doses of the vaccine could be ready for distribution by September, if the vaccine can be tested and produced.
Despite the unknowns, officials are preparing for a massive vaccination campaign, and are fearful that the illness could accelerate by winter. Discussions on the massive campaign dominated a three-day meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which guides the U.S. on vaccination policies.
So far, swine flu has caused over 27,000 illnesses and 127 deaths in the U.S.
This week, 6,000 cases were reported, making it the most since swine flu first began grabbing headlines in April.
According to Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a million infections have probably occurred in the U.S., with many going unreported.
“This new infectious disease is not going away,” said Schuchat.
Officials are also fearful about the upcoming seasonal flu, which kills 36,000 Americans each year.
Vaccine manufacturers are producing 120 million seasonal flu doses for this year’s flu season, most of which will not be available until Nov. 1.
Government officials are working to make sure production of the seasonal flu vaccine is not diminished to account for the possible swine flu vaccinations.
The swine flu campaign will be a difficult one, partly due to the fact that health officials believe many children and adults under age 50 may need two doses, hence the need for 600 million doses despite a U.S. population that is closer to 300 million.
McKession Specialty, the company that normally supplies 80 million vaccine doses for American children, has not yet determined if it could handle distributing 600 million doses of swine flu vaccination across the country, said Dr. Jeanne Santoli, overseer of vaccine purchase and distribution for the CDC.
The massive size of the campaign is causing many logistical problems for the CDC.
Officials have said they will have to recruit physicians to help administer the vaccinations, as a dwindling economy has led to the termination of over 10,000 local health department jobs.
Tracking the vaccination side effects will also prove to be a difficult task.
If both the swine flu vaccination, and the seasonal flu shot are given at the same time, it will likely cause issues determining which side effects are from which vaccination.
This issue previously arose in 1976, when officials vaccinated 40 million Americans for swine flu.
Over 500 of those receiving the vaccinations came down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a paralyzing autoimmune disorder. Researchers still do not know what caused the side effect.
Many officials are pushing for a different start date for the swine flu campaign in order to monitor side effects more effectively.
According to Dr. Nancy Cox of the CDC, health officials may not have a choice.
Seasonal flu and swine flu have been traveling together. In Australia, which is working through its annual flu season, reported flu cases have been broken down into 60 percent swine flu and 40 percent seasonal flu.
“There are too many complexities. We’ll have to wait and see,” Cox told the AP.
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