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H1N1 (Swine Flu): Shortage of Vaccine, Death Toll Rises, H1N1 Widespread

On Friday, CDC predicted a shortfall in the supply of the H1N1 vaccine, as the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths grow to levels unprecedented for this time of year. The H1N1 virus is now widespread in 41 states, and flulike illnesses account for 6.1 percent of all doctor visits.  “That’s high for any time, particularly for October,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC.

As can clearly be seen from this weeks map, the entire country has the flu!
As can clearly be seen from this weeks FluView map, the entire country has the flu!

A chilling number was released…43 children have died from H1N1 since Aug. 30 — about the same number that usually die in an entire flu season. “These are very sobering statistics,” Dr. Schuchat said in a news briefing, “and unfortunately they are likely to increase.”

The age breakdown looked like this:

  • 19 of the 43 who died were teenagers
  • 16 were ages 5 to 11 years old
  • The rest were under 5.
This shows the number of influenza deaths over the past five flu seasons going back to 2005 and as you can see 2008-2009 blends into 2009-2010.
This shows the number of influenza deaths over the past five flu seasons going back to 2005 and as you can see 2008-2009 blends into 2009-2010.

Those who are hospitalized are often very, very sick.  Between 15 – 20 percent of the patients who were hospitalized with the flu landed in an intensive care unit, a rate comparable with that for seasonal flu. There is one light of good news, although the disease continues to spread, its severity is not increasing…there is just lots and lots of sick people.

This graph shows 3 years of can see wave #1 starting around week 15 and wave 2 starting week 31.  Since that time it has had a vertical ascent.
This graph shows 3 years of can see wave #1 starting around week 15 and wave 2 starting week 31. Since that time it has had a vertical ascent. Red = 2008-2009 Green = 2007-2008 Blue 2006 -2007

Projections of the supply of H1N1 vaccine have widely varied. During the summer, health officials said 120 million doses would be ready in October. They later dropped the estimate to 40 million doses by the end of the month. Now, Dr. Schuchat said, they expect only 28 million to 30 million doses, adding that the exact numbers were impossible to predict and could change daily. She said vaccine manufacturers were reporting that production was behind schedule. “Vaccine production for influenza is pretty complex,” she said in explaining the delay, “and the complex process this year is taking a bit longer than we had hoped. The yield of antigen is lower than they had hoped for.”  The antigen is the part of a virus included in vaccine to stimulate the body’s protective response. It is crucial; a vaccine will not work without it.

Dr. Schuchat also said that once batches of vaccine were prepared, they had to be tested for potency and purity. “We are not cutting any corners,” she said. “It’s important to us that this process be done carefully and safely.” She acknowledged that some people were having trouble obtaining vaccinations, saying, “I’m sorry it’s a difficult time in terms of looking for vaccine.” As of Wednesday, Dr. Schuchat said, 11.4 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine were available, with more being shipped. She predicted that by early November, there would be widespread vaccine availability and information on where people should go for it.

Dr. Schuchat acknowledged that some people had fears about the H1N1 vaccine, but she emphasized that it was safe and urged pregnant women to be vaccinated because they were especially prone to severe complications and had accounted for a disproportionate number of deaths. Studies of the swine flu vaccine are being conducted in pregnant women. But, Dr. Schuchat said, “if I were pregnant, I would not wait for the results of those trials; the risk in pregnant women has been very striking.”

On the seasonal flu, Dr. Schuchat said 82 million doses of vaccine had been distributed, out of an expected total of 114 million. But the vaccine has been running low in some areas. Dr. Schuchat urged the public to “keep looking” and emphasized that there was time because seasonal flu did not usually take hold until December. Virtually all cases now are the H1N1 swine flu, she said.

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This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. It is important to look at the money in this debate as the finance piece directly affects scientific objectivity. And the general public is losing trust in many of our institutions and waking up to the inherent conflict of interest that they fear works against them most of the time.

    Flu vaccines and BigPharma are VERY BIG business. Money has become a problem for academic science too, not just in the private research sector such as pharmaceuticals. The problem is systemic. Publish or perish! The constant quest for research dollars in almost all types of academic research science means that researchers must guard their “scientific-turf” lest the funding budget be cut. This destroys true objectivity in a very big way.

    Many arguments against vaccination are reasonable and cogent. However, clear expert and non-expert voices opposing vaccination are sorely missing in our media discussion. It’s not because they’re not out there. It’s because major news outlets won’t risk losing advertising dollars from BigPharma. Thimerosal, contaminant viruses and other toxic components of flu vaccines are safe? Who are we kidding?

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more! Even in a mild pandemic, there are many very ill people that require hospital care and sophisticated treatments. There is only so much of that to go around…stay well.

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