Influenza is widespread in most of the United States, with the incidence continuing to increase in some states and to decline very slightly in others, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this morning at a news conference. The infections are "overwhelmingly" pandemic H1N1 influenza, commonly known as swine flu, he noted. The flu season generally lasts well into May, he said, so we have many months of uncertainties ahead of us.
Shipments of swine flu vaccines have begun and vaccinations began Monday in several states, with a priority for healthcare providers and young children. About 2.4 million doses of the intranasal vaccine FluMist are now available, and states have already ordered 2.2 million doses, Frieden said. Next week, injectable vaccines will also become available. So far, vaccine "demand is outstripping supply, but we expect that fairly soon, supply will be outstripping demand." Over the next two to three weeks, he added, tens of millions of additional doses will become available.
There have already been some mismatches between supply and demand, Frieden said. "The first couple of weeks are going to be a bit bumpy as we get the supply chain worked out. What we are seeing now is the tap beginning to flow."
Frieden noted that the public has three major concerns about vaccination "despite the clear message that vaccine is the best tool to protect against the flu":
-- First, he said, many people believe the flu is a mild illness. It is not. "It can make you pretty sick, knock you out for a day or two or three," Frieden said. It can even put you in the hospital or kill you.
-- Second are concerns that the vaccine is not safe, that corners have been cut in its production and that it is a new, experimental vaccine. "In fact, none of that is the case," he said. "It is made the same way the flu vaccine is made each year, in the same facilities and by the same companies.... It's been used safely in hundreds of millions of people. My children will get it, other public health and societal leaders will get it and have their families get it."
-- Third is the concern that the vaccine is arriving too late to do much good. "It's too soon to say it is too late" because no one knows what is going to happen for the rest of the flu season. Even if, say, 5% of the population has contracted swine flu, that still leaves 95% vulnerable. "We don't know what the long flu season is going to hold. We have not had a flu season like this in 50 years."
-- Thomas H. Maugh II