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Sebelius Urges Americans to Get Swine Flu Vaccine

HHS secretary says shots are made in same way as seasonal flu vaccine, and children are vulnerable to the disease,,

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 7 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius renewed her call Wednesday for Americans -- especially those in high-risk groups -- to get vaccinated against the H1N1 swine flu, calling the vaccine "safe and secure."

Appearing on the morning TV news programs, Sebelius reiterated her belief that the vaccine is safe, saying it "has been made exactly the same way seasonal vaccine has been made, year in and year out."

Interviewed on CBS's The Early Show, she said federal health officials have identified four groups of people at particular risk from the H1N1 swine flu: pregnant women, health-care workers, children with underlying health conditions ages 6 months to 24 years, and older Americans with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease and asthma, the Associated Press reported.

In an interview on NBC's Today show, Sebelius said children are especially vulnerable to infection from the H1N1 virus. "This flu is a younger person's flu," she said. "Kids have no immunity to the flu ... children are great carriers of bugs and viruses."

Because of the danger of easy transmission, especially in school and day-care settings, Sebelius said, "We strongly urge parents to take precautionary steps. Flu kills every year ... and we've got a great vaccine to deal with it."

Sebelius' comments echoed those of the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that the H1N1 vaccine is safe and effective with no serious side effects yet reported.

"With the production of this strain [of vaccine], we have cut no corners," Frieden said. "This flu vaccine is made as flu vaccine is made each year, by the same companies, in the same production facilities, with the same procedures, with the same safety safeguards."

"We have had hundreds of millions of people vaccinated against flu with flu vaccine made in this way. That enables us to have a high degree of confidence in the safety of the vaccine," he added.

The first shipments of the H1N1 vaccine are arriving at distribution centers throughout the country this week. These initial doses are in the form of a nasal spray (FluMist). Health-care workers, children over 2 years of age, and adults who care for infants are being encouraged to get their vaccinations now, according to the CDC.

Some two million doses of the FluMist vaccine have been shipped. The first doses of the injectable version of the vaccine will start shipping next week, Frieden said. The H1N1 virus has not mutated, he added, so the vaccine should be a good match.

Frieden noted that getting vaccine distribution up and running is a complex process and there will be glitches in the first few weeks. Already demand is outstripping supply, he said. "We expected it to be bumpy in the first few weeks," he said.

The U.S. government is still hoping to have 40 million doses of the vaccine distributed by late October and 190 million doses by year's end.

According to Frieden, one of the most common myths about getting the H1N1 vaccine is the notion that the H1N1 flu is typically mild, so it's not necessary to get vaccinated.

"Flu is not a mild illness," he said. "It can make you pretty sick, knock you out for a day or two or three, it can make you miss school and work. And for too many people it can end up sending them to the hospital, to the intensive-care unit, and, tragically, some people may die from it."

Another concern expressed by some people, Frieden said, is that the vaccine, which was rushed into testing and production after the H1N1 virus emerged last spring, may be unsafe. The H1N1 vaccine is made the same way as any other flu vaccine, Frieden said, adding that he has every confidence that it is safe.

The CDC chief pointed to what he considered another widespread misconception: Since the H1N1 flu has already started circulating in every state, it's too late to get vaccinated.

"It's too soon to say it's too late. We don't know what the rest of the season will bring," Frieden said.

In states where the H1N1 flu has been most active, it has affected about 2 percent to 5 percent of the population, leaving most people still susceptible to infection, he said.

"Flu vaccine is our best tool to protect against the flu," Frieden said.

Frieden's remarks coincided closely with statements earlier Tuesday by Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. He told the Associated Press that only four of 39,000 Chinese who have received the H1N1 vaccine experienced minor side effects such as headache or muscle cramps, and these effects are to be expected.

Hartl said the current H1N1 vaccine formulation ranks among the safest the WHO has seen.

More information

For more on H1N1 swine flu, visit the CDC.

SOURCES: Oct. 6, 2009, teleconference with Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Associated Press

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