Sep 1, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – President Barack Obama warned today that a larger wave of novel H1N1 influenza is likely this fall and called on all Americans to prepare for it.
"I don't want anybody to be alarmed, but I do want everybody to be prepared," Obama said in a Rose Garden statement after a meeting with several cabinet secretaries to discuss the pandemic.
In a reference to past pandemics, he said, "We know that we usually get a second, larger wave of these flu viruses in the fall, and so response plans have been put in place across all levels of government."
Obama said the government is "making steady progress on developing a safe and effective H1N1 flu vaccine, and we expect a flu shot program will begin soon. The program will be completely voluntary, but it will be strongly recommended."
He didn't go into specifics on which groups have priority for vaccination—pregnant women, healthcare and emergency medical services workers, close contacts of babies under 6 months of age, children from 6 months to 4 years old, and older children and adolescents with risk factors for flu complications.
In a separate, brief overview of H1N1 preparedness today, the White House said the vaccination program will be "available to all Americans that wish to participate over a period of time." Federal officials have said they expect the first 45 million doses of vaccine—out of 195 million doses ordered—to become available starting in mid October.
In his statement, Obama went on to appeal to individuals and various groups to participate in preparedness efforts.
"Every American has a role to play in responding to this virus," he said. "We need state and local governments on the front lines to make antiviral medications and vaccines available, and be ready to take whatever steps are necessary to support the healthcare system. We need hospitals and healthcare providers to continue preparing for an increased patient load, and to take steps to protect healthcare workers. We need families and businesses to ensure that they have plans in place if a family member, a child, or a co-worker contracts the flu and needs to stay home."
He also urged people to learn about indiviidual risk factors and to take commonsense precautions: "Stay home if you're sick. Wash your hands frequently. Cover your sneezes with your sleeve, not your hands. And take all the necessary precautions to stay healthy. I know it sounds simple, but it's important and it works.
"Finally, for people who want to learn more about this virus, please go to www.flu.gov, or talk to your doctor."
Obama's statement came 8 days after the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technolgoy (PCAST), in a lengthy report on the government's pandemic preparations, estimated that the novel virus could infect 30% to 50% of the population and cause between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths.
While generally praising the Obama adminsitration's efforts, the advisory group called on the administration to accelerate vaccine development, clarify guidelines for antiviral use, and appoint a White House point person to coordinate the government's response. Obama made no reference to the report in his statement today.
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