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CDC Says U.S. H1N1 Vaccine Supplies On The Rise; Senators Question Government’s Handling Of H1N1 Vaccination Program

Supplies of the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine are steadily increasing in the U.S. and should soon be more widely accessible in the next two weeks, the CDC said on Tuesday, CQ HealthBeat reports. During a press briefing, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said that 22.4 million vaccine doses are now available for states to order (Norman, 10/27). “We’re beginning to get to significant increases in the availability,” Frieden said.

“Last week there were just 14 million doses on hand, despite initial predictions that as many as 120 million would be ready by mid-October” – an estimate the government was forced to reduce to 45 million, after manufacturing snags delayed vaccine output, the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. “The slow supply trickle has frustrated Americans, who have stood in line for hours in some parts of the country” (Stobbe, 10/27).

In related news, “Two top senators overseeing the national response to the swine flu are sharply questioning the government’s handling of the vaccination program, in one of the first indications that it could become a political issue for the Obama administration,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“In a letter sent Tuesday to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) praised the government’s initial steps on the H1N1 swine flu, but said they now have ‘strong concerns’ about the fallout from faulty estimates for how much vaccine would be available,” according to the newspaper. “Unfortunately, these missteps in estimating available doses of H1N1 vaccine have effects beyond just growing public frustration; they have the potential to critically undermine our vaccine distribution efforts, which depend on accurate estimates of vaccine availability,” the senators wrote.

The letter requests that Sebelius “answer 13 questions, including when HHS knew that vaccine supplies would fall short of its projections, and why officials didn’t narrow their list of target recipients to make sure those at highest risk got the limited supplies first” (McKay/Simpson, 10/28).

Russia Reports First Deaths From H1N1

Medical authorities in Russia on Tuesday reported the country’s first deaths from H1N1, the Los Angeles Times reports. The virus claimed the lives of three women – two from “Chita, a provincial capital about 3,900 miles east of Moscow” and one from Moscow – according to health officials.

“Since June, about 1,300 cases of H1N1, commonly known as swine flu, have been registered in Russia, [Viktor] Maleyev [deputy chief of the Central Research Institute of Epidemiology] said,” according to the newspaper (Loiko, 10/28).

WHO Encourages Chinese Citizens To Get H1N1 Vaccine

The WHO “encouraged Chinese citizens to be vaccinated against swine flu Tuesday, calling the shot ‘safe and effective’ after an opinion poll revealed wariness about quality,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Despite the results of a clinical trial involving over 12,000 Chinese citizens last month which showed the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, a survey published Monday by “the state English-language China Daily … reveal[ed] that more than half of all Chinese do not plan to be vaccinated against swine flu because they are unsure about the safety of the shot,” according to the news service. The poll found “more than 54 percent of the 2,000 respondents said they did not want the A(H1N1) vaccine – a huge turnaround from two months ago, when 76 percent said they did” (10/27).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.