The Food and Drug Administration this morning approved the pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccine from four different manufacturers, clearing the way for the vaccine to be administered as soon as enough of it is available. The approval was announced to Congress by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The licensing means that the vaccine is made properly and meets specific manufacturing and quality standards. Officials from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced Friday that the vaccine was safe and produced adequate immunity with only one dose. Researchers had feared that two doses would be required, limiting the amount of vaccine available and complicating the logistics for delivering it.
The United States has ordered enough vaccine for 195 million doses, meaning that "We will have enough vaccine available for everyone," Sebelius said. About 45 million doses are expected to be available by the middle of October, and officials are targeting those in the highest-risk groups -- primarily pregnant women and healthcare workers. In a normal year, about half the people who should receive the seasonal flu vaccine actually get it, and it seems likely that despite widespread publicity campaigns, the turnout will not be much higher this year. Many people fear the vaccine because of its supposed "experimental" nature and perceived safety issues, but government scientists note that it is virtually identical to the seasonal flu vaccine, which has been given safely to hundreds of millions of people.
The vaccines approved today are made by Australia's CSL Ltd., Switzerland's Novartis, France's Sanofi-Pasteur and Maryland's MedImmune, which makes an inhalable vaccine that might be available by the end of the month.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II