The U.S. has received 8.4 million more doses of H1N1 flu vaccine over the past week, but it’s still too hard for people who need the vaccine to get it, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden said there are 22.4 million doses of H1N1 vaccine available to the public, up from 14 million doses a week ago, but the process is still moving too slowly. The government has ordered a total of 225 million doses.
“We’re getting to a level where it will be significantly easier to find and receive the vaccine,” Frieden said during an afternoon press briefing. “Delivery is overnight and is going directly to the provider and eventually there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wishes to get it.”
The holdup in vaccine production has been “frustrating,” Frieden reiterated in his latest briefing and is due to the use of an antiquated egg-based system that produces vaccine over a 6-9 month period, rather than a 6-9 week period as officials would prefer.
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Frieden said new methods of vaccine production using cell-, DNA-, and protein-based technologies are in the testing phases. These methods would produce vaccine much quicker, but are “experimental” and don’t have the safety record that egg-based technology does.
“We’re still using eggs because the technology has been around for long time,” he said. “That’s good news for safety purposes, but we wish had new technology that could provide vaccine quicker.”
Frieden said the H1N1 flu continues to be widespread throughout the U.S., although some communities are seeing a decrease in cases, while others are seeing an increase in cases. He was unable to fully elaborate on where the increases and decreases are being seen.
“We have seen decreases in Georgia,” he said. “But the increases and decreases are quite focal and not confined to one region in particular. Different parts of different states and different parts of different cities are experiencing increases and decreases. The pattern is still somewhat patchy, which is typical for the flu. But there are still many people at risk and it’s still not too late to get vaccinated.”
The shortage in vaccine has led to an increased interest in getting vaccinated, which is quite typical, Frieden said; although widespread misconceptions about the H1N1 vaccine’s safety and effectiveness continue.
“As we’ve said, the H1N1 vaccine is safe and, if we had isolated the strain earlier, it would be included in this year’s seasonal flu vaccine, as it will be in the Southern Hemisphere’s seasonal flu vaccine,” he said. “And we continue to believe it is an excellent match for the H1N1 strain that is circulating and will work just as well as the seasonal vaccine does when it is an excellent match.”
CDC officials estimate that H1N1 has killed at least 1,000 Americans, including close to 100 children.