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Sebelius: There Will Be Swine Flu Vaccine for All Who Want It

But the HHS secretary admits that delays are limiting supplies so far

MONDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- While acknowledging delays in getting the swine flu vaccine to Americans, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the vaccine "is coming out the door as fast as it comes off the production line."

"We were relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers, and as soon as we got numbers we put them out to the public," Sebelius said on a morning network news program. "It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy." She appeared Monday morning on three network news shows.

Sebelius said that eventually there will be enough supplies "for everyone."

"We do have a vaccine that works," she said, adding that there are now roughly 16.5 million doses of the vaccine, which, she conceded, is still millions of doses below what is needed and what had been predicted, the Associated Press reported.

Asked what advice she would give to people who have waited in line for a shot only to find they couldn't get one, Sebelius said, "I want them to come back."

"I hope that people aren't discouraged," she said. "I know it's frustrating to wait in line and particularly if you end up with no vaccine. We wish this could have been smoother, that we had a larger supply. We knew it [the H1N1 flu] would come in waves."

On Saturday, President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 swine flu a national emergency.

His proclamation, signed Friday night and released Saturday by the White House, will allow hospitals and doctors' offices to get legal waivers of federal rules so they can handle large numbers of sick people as the outbreak spreads.

"The H1N1 is moving rapidly, as expected. By the time regions or health-care systems recognize they are becoming overburdened, they need to implement disaster plans quickly," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said Saturday, according to the Washington Post.

The waivers, which will be issued by Sebelius, still require individual requests from hospitals, Cherlin noted.

The goal, according to the AP, is to remove bureaucratic roadblocks and make it easier for sick people to seek treatment and for medical personnel to provide it immediately. That could mean fewer hurdles involving Medicare, Medicaid or health privacy regulations, the news service added.

The H1N1 swine flu is now widespread in 46 states, and there have been 1,000 laboratory-confirmed deaths since April, according to the latest estimates, released Friday by U.S. health officials.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference Friday, "We have already had millions of cases of pandemic influenza in the United States, and the numbers continue to increase."

At the same time, he said, production delays continue to hamper distribution of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

The vaccine is growing more slowly in egg-based cultures than manufacturers had anticipated, resulting in fewer available doses at this time, Frieden explained.

As of Friday, there were 16.1 million doses on hand nationwide, up from 14.1 on Wednesday, Frieden said. And there will be far fewer than the 40 million doses originally planned for the end of October, he added.

"Vaccine availability is increasing steadily, but far too slowly," Frieden said. "It's frustrating to all of us. We are nowhere near where we thought we would be by now. We are not near where the vaccine manufacturers predicted we would be."

The vaccine that is available comes in both nasal mist and injectable forms. The first doses were only the nasal spray, called FluMist, designed for healthy people 2 to 49 years of age. But now, more than half the doses are injectable, he said.

While children continue to be particularly vulnerable to the disease, Freiden said, "we are seeing it increasingly affect young adults as well as children. We are still not seeing significant numbers of cases among the elderly, and that's characteristic of this virus."

More information

To learn more about the H1N1 swine flu, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCES: John Treanor, M.D., professor, medicine, and chief, infectious diseases division, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y.; Oct. 23, 2009, news release, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Oct. 23, 2009, teleconference with Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Washington Post; Associated Press

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