About half the US population should get vaccinated against A(H1N1) influenza, but pregnant women and healthcare workers should be at the front of the line, US health advisers agreed on Wednesday.
Up to 160 million doses of flu vaccine will be available for the start of a vaccination campaign planned for mid-October. The Advisory Panel on Immunization Practices recommended that state and local health officials prepare to vaccinate as many as 150 million people.
Each person will likely need two flu vaccine doses and officials said it was not clear exactly how much vaccine would be available and when.
“The main message is that it’s half the population [who are the priority to be vaccinated]. And it’s the younger half of the population, as well as health care workers,” said Kathy Neuzil, ACIP influenza work group chairwoman.
The group nearly unanimously accepted advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Human Services Department almost always follow the advice of the committee.
The recommendations said pregnant women, people who care for babies and healthcare workers should be the first protected against the virus — a total of around 41 million people — in the event that not enough vaccine is available.
People at risk of serious complications from catching the flu should follow — and then healthy young adults aged 19 to 24, the panel said.
Members of the panel said young adults should be a priority because they are more likely to become infected and tend to work in places that would accelerate the flu’s spread.
“They penetrate our society at service-level jobs, at entry-level jobs, so there is going to be a lot of transmission from these people,” panel member Carol Baker of the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas told the meeting.
Pregnant women are at special risk from the new strain, and vaccinating them protects their newborns, too, the CDC’s Anthony Fiore told the committee.
A CDC report released earlier on Wednesday showed pregnant women were four times as likely as other people to suffer severe complications and even die from A(H1N1) infection.
Five companies are making A(H1N1) vaccine for the US market — AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, Australia’s CSL Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA.
It is not clear how many doses of vaccine will be available right away but the US would need 600 million doses to immunize everyone.
The panel struggled to keep a balance between getting limited supplies of vaccine to people who need it the most urgently and making sure that there was enough demand for it.
In the past, influenza vaccines have been thrown away at the end of the flu season because people lost interest in being vaccinated.
The US government has taken delivery of 20 million doses of a vaccine against the new strain, has ordered 195 million doses and should be ready to start an immunization campaign in October, said Robin Robinson of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Data from human trials of the new vaccine, which have just begun, will not be available until late September, officials said.
A(H1N1) swine flu is now so widespread that the WHO has stopped counting individual cases. Health experts are afraid it could worsen, especially when the Northern Hemisphere’s influenza season starts in the autumn.
Fiore also released new CDC data showing that obese people do not have an especially high risk of death or complications from swine flu, as some earlier studies had suggested.
Fiore said the working group was assuming that people will need two doses of vaccine to be fully protected, but the clinical trials are also looking at this issue.
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