GOP Senator Blasts Sebelius for Answers to H1N1 Vaccine Distribution Strategy

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The White House has failed to provide answers to national preparedness questions on the H1N1 flu pandemic, a Republican senator charged Tuesday.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Tuesday that the administration can't provide key answers on H1N1 vaccine supply and distribution despite repeated questioning on its vaccine strategy.

In a letter dated Oct. 26, Collins pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to provide information on the administration's plans to distribute the full 250 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine.

Collins asked Sebelius when she expects enough vaccine will be available to meet the needs of Americans who are considered most vulnerable for infection. She also asked Sebelius for a time frame on how quickly the vaccine doses will reach those priority groups.

Sebelius responded to her inquiry, but failed to provide specific answers and "address when supply would catch up with demand," according to Collins.

"It is disappointing that the administration continues to recite the same promises and the same pledges, in spite of overwhelming evidence across the country that many Americans, including some of our most vulnerable children, do not have access to the H1N1 vaccine," Collins said in a statement Tuesday. "Today, worried parents are left wondering when the vaccine will arrive. The administration has no answers. It is not hyperbole to say that lives are at stake."

In her response, Sebelius assured Collins that "with unprecedented speed, we have completed key steps in the vaccine development and manufacturing process."

Still, Sebelius said that "poor production yields with the initial vaccine strains, late completion of seasonal influenza vaccine manufacturing and equipment failures on new production lines have caused significant reductions in the manufacturers' timelines."

"These delays are affecting both the U.S. and global H1N1 vaccine supplies. Manufacturers assure us they are taking active steps to overcome the remaining challenges, and we are doing all in our power to help them.," Sebelius wrote. "Despite the delay, our goal is to ensure that everyone who wants to get vaccinated will ultimately be able to do so. HHS, through CDC, is working closely with states to ensure that vaccine gets to the public as soon as it is received."

The H1N1 flu vaccine is becoming more available, but it is still being outpaced by the virus itself, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

"Essentially what we're seeing is that the virus continues to be spreading across the country and we are seeing a steady increase in the availability of the vaccine, but not as quickly as we'd like it to be," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said during an afternoon press briefing.

The government has received 31.8 million doses of H1N1 vaccine and expects to receive several million more by the end of the week, Frieden said.

Pennsylvania last week had to discard 6,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine because it was not properly refrigerated. With the U.S. already facing a shortage, Frieden said every dose is important, but that relatively few mishaps have occurred since the vaccine became available.

"It's obviously frustrating and we regret when any loss of vaccine occurs, but we've shipped out 30 million doses and only a few incidences of improper handling have occurred," he said. "This is why it's important that proper tracking and monitoring of the vaccine are done, and why we can't rapidly send out dosages, because not every provider has a refrigerator that can monitor the temperature of the vaccine properly."

At least 114 children have died from H1N1 flu complications since the spring.  The government has released more Tamiflu for children to remedy spot shortages of the children's version of the flu medication.'s Marrecca Fiore contributed to this report.