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Lessons learned from the H1N1 flu vaccine shortage

5 year old gettting flu shot - to date 37 pediatric deaths from H1N1 were reported in our region
5 year old gettting flu shot - to date 37 pediatric deaths from H1N1 were reported in our regionAP photo

The American Medical Association's Third National Congress on Health System Readiness is going on this week, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius  announced Tuesday that a major review and proposed overhaul of the government's efforts to develop new protections against pandemics, bioterrorism and other health threats has been initiated.

Sebelius stated that the review was sparked by this year's H1N1 vaccine shortage.  "We were fighting the 2009 H1N1 flu with vaccine technology from the 1950s. We could race to begin vaccine production, but there was nothing we could do if vaccine grew slowly in eggs. We could make deals with foreign vaccine producers ahead of time, but we still wouldn't have as much control over the vaccine as if they were based in the U.S.," she said.

"If we wanted to avoid these problems in the future, we needed to make some long-term investments in developing countermeasures that were just as safe and effective, but could be produced faster and more reliably," she said.

A new facility that can make flu vaccine using cells instead of eggs opened last week in Holly Springs, N.C., after Novartis received more than $400 million in federal funding.

This processes involved in making the H1N1 vaccine, as well as other proposed methodology was detailed in a prior article which can be found here.

The Obama administration has been slammed for not having enough vaccine available, but Sebelius defended the administration, saying that the virus was identified quickly, diagnostic tests were produced and distributed rapidly, and the immunization program was started as soon as possible.

The shortage is currently a non-issue, as about 69 million doses are now available, however, the virus is still spreading widely and a third wave could occur later this winter, said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden.

CDC reports in the Alabama region (Region 4), we are still experiencing elevated levels of activity, and our region has reported 37 pediatric deaths. 

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