CDC: Get Your Swine Flu Shots

Jon is a staff writer for Science.

As the availability of swine flu vaccine steadily increases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stepping up its efforts to combat a growing sense of complacency in the country about the pandemic.

At a press conference today, Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, reported that 76 children in the United States have died from the novel H1N1 virus since it surfaced in April. She compared that with the past three flu seasons in the country, which have recorded between 46 and 88 deaths in that age bracket. “It's only the beginning of October,” Schuchat stressed. “Of course, the flu season often will last all of the way until May.”

Influenza is now widespread in 37 states, up 10 states from the week before, Schuchat said. “We think the vast majority of people in a given community are vulnerable or susceptible to this virus,” she said. She stressed that the vaccine can both protect individuals from becoming infected and reduce the chances that they’ll spread an infection to others. Limited quantities of the vaccine became available on Monday.

Schuchat downplayed news reports yesterday that New York City and other cities might have high levels of immunity to the virus because they were hard hit in the first wave last spring. “We're way too early to know whether disease will recur there,” said Schuchat. “We’ve looked at about 50 different cities to see whether places that had outbreaks in the spring are seeing increases now. In a large number of them, we're seeing increased disease. So it may not be on the same street where patients were, but I think it’s way too soon for us to be certain about that second or third wave. You know, I would be as happy as anyone if New York City doesn't have more disease, but I really think the vaccination is the best way to reduce the chances that anybody in New York City will get sick.”

Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, revealed reassuring data from ongoing clinical trials that test the impact of the seasonal influenza vaccine on the novel H1N1 product.

“We're pleased to report that the vaccine, when given simultaneously, does not impair the immune response to either of those,” said Fauci.

On a related note, Schuchat addressed a report from Canada that showed the seasonal vaccine increased the risk of becoming infected with the swine flu virus and one from Mexico that showed precisely the opposite finding. Schuchat said CDC has conducted four separate analyses that address these questions in U.S. populations. “None of them find any increase or decrease in the risk of H1N1 disease associated with the seasonal flu vaccine exposure,” she said.

As of yesterday, the United States had 6.8 million doses of H1N1 vaccine available and was shipping them out to states in response to requests.

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