CDC sets sights on getting pandemic vaccine to adults

Dec 22, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The nation's supply of pandemic vaccine has grown to 111 million doses, enough so that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is turning part of its attention toward boosting the percentage of adults who get vaccinated.

Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that though the virus seems to be retreating in many states, nearly all of what's circulating is the pandemic H1N1 strain, and it's clear that the virus isn't going away.

The burgeoning supply of vaccine provides a good window of opportunity to be vaccinated, she said. "Now is the time to act. The flu virus is not taking off for the holiday."

Holiday gatherings provide a good setting to encourage friends and family members to be immunized. Schuchat said, advising, "Remind your loved ones to take care of their health and look for that vaccine."

New survey data from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health suggest that over the past few weeks, the percentage of children vaccinated has far surpassed that for adults. Schuchat said about half of Americans want to be vaccinated, but only one in three have done so. So far, about 60 million people have received the pandemic H1N1 vaccine, she said.

The Harvard poll found that, as of last week, about three quarters of parents who had tried to get the pandemic vaccine for their children were able to do so. About a third of parents said they didn't expect to have their children vaccinated, with about half of that group citing safety concerns.

Though the poll found that over recent weeks more adults were getting the vaccine, 55% said they don't intend to get vaccinated.

In a press release that accompanied the poll's findings, Dr. Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, said the results suggests that safety beliefs are hard to change for some member of the public and that public health officials will need to focus even more attention on convincing people that the pandemic vaccine is safe.

Schuchat said the CDC has not seen any worrisome signs among the 60 million people who have received the vaccine. "This is very reassuring from a safety front," she said.

Over the next several weeks, the nation can expect to see more efforts to urge more people to get the vaccine, Schuchat said. She said National Influenza Vaccination Week, a national observance used over the past few years to foster greater use of flu vaccine after the holiday season and past January, will start Jan 10. It was originally scheduled for the week of Dec 6 but was postponed because both pandemic and seasonal flu vaccines were in short supply at the time.

She said more public service announcements will launch to encourage more vaccinations, and those in leadership positions will help spread the pandemic vaccine message. Yesterday President Barack Obama said he and his wife Michelle just got their pandemic vaccines, the Associated Press reported today. He also encouraged others to be immunized, now that the vaccine supply has been extended beyond priority groups that are at high risk of complications from the flu.

Schuchat also reminded parents that children under age 10 who have already been vaccinated need to get a second dose of the pandemic vaccine. "It's important to finish the series," she said, adding that the CDC estimates that as of Dec 6 about 2 million children had received their second dose. She said officials are anticipating that schools will launch another round of vaccination clinics to ensure that kids who need it get their second dose.

The CDC's reminder for younger children to receive their recommended follow-up comes one day after researchers from Australia reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that one dose is probably enough to protect children younger than 9 years. The vaccine they evaluated was made by CSL Biotherapies, an Australian company that supplies H1N1 vaccine to both Australia and the United States.

Two vaccine experts who wrote an editorial accompanying the report said it is too early to assume that one dose is enough to protect all young children, especially because the study didn't include youngsters with chronic health conditions or compromised immunity.

Schuchat said the study findings will prompt lots of scientific discussion, but she said that, based on research from the National Institutes of Health, the CDC strongly believes two doses are needed to protect children younger than 10. She added that researchers will want to find out why the JAMA findings were different and emphasized that the study evaluated one vaccine, in one population, at one point in time.

See also:

Dec 22 Harvard School of Public Health press release

Dec 21 CIDRAP News story "Study: One H1N1 vaccine dose may be OK for young children"

CDC National Influenza Vaccination Week information

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