At least 111 million doses of vaccine against pandemic H1N1 influenza are now available and least 60 million people have already been immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The vaccine supply is getting better and better, and surveys are showing that the initial doses were relatively quickly taken up and going to the people they were targeted for," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a morning news conference. The vaccine "is becoming available in more and more places and at more and more times," she said.
The CDC did a telephone survey during the week of Dec. 6 to 12, contacting families with 1,358 adults and 3,243 children. The survey found that, overall, about 40 million people had been vaccinated by that time. About 40% of the vaccine doses went to children, with the coverage twice as high in children as in adults. "That is really good news," Schuchat said, both because children are hit particularly hit by swine flu and because they are spreaders of the virus. With seasonal flu, there is normally a higher vaccination rate among adults.
A poll of 1,600 adults by Harvard University researchers during the period of Dec. 16 to 17 found that 56 million people had been immunized, and corroborated the CDC finding that children were more likely to receive the vaccine. Based on those findings, Schuchat said, the CDC believes that about 60 million Americans have now been vaccinated. The agency's polls suggest that about half of all Americans want to be vaccinated, so it is clear that many have not been able to find the vaccine.
Schuchat warned parents about putting too much credence in a study released Monday showing that one dose of a vaccine produced by Australia's CSL Biopharmacies was sufficient to immunize children under age 8. "That's one single study with one vaccine and one population," she said. Based on studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, "We strongly believe that two doses of vaccine are needed in children under 10." The CDC poll found that, as of the week of Dec. 6, about 2 million children had received the second dose, and she encouraged parents to make sure their kids receive the second dose, even if it is five to six weeks after the first one.
With 60 million people vaccinated, "We are not seeing any worrisome signs," she added. "The information is very reassuring from the safety front."
Flu activity in this country has been declining rapidly. As of Friday, only 11 states -- including California -- were reporting widespread flu activity, with some others reporting regional activity. Nine pediatric deaths were reported during the week, down from 16 the week before. That brings the total of deaths with a laboratory confirmation of swine flu to 276 since the pandemic began in April, but officials believe the actual number is substantially higher. The agency also identified 15 samples of the virus that were resistant to the antiviral drug Tamiflu, bringing the total for the year to 32 in the United States. There is, however, no evidence that the resistant viruses are spreading.
The number of Americans getting tested for swine flu has also been dropping rapidly, according to Quest Diagnostics, which performs many of the lab tests and makes kits used by other labs. By Dec. 9, the number of tests being performed had dropped by 75% since the peak in mid-October, according to Dr. Jay M. Lieberman, the company's medical director for infectious diseases. In November, he added, 44% of the tests were coming back positive for H1N1, compared to only 21% during the two weeks ending Dec. 9.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II