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Swine flu vaccine supplies are growing, but flu is still spreading

November 6, 2009 | 10:59 am

Pig More than 38 million doses of vaccine against pandemic H1N1 influenza are now available for ordering, 11 million more than were available last week and double the number available two weeks ago, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. Another 8 million doses are expected to arrive next week "if everything goes well," according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "That is progress. ... As supplies increase, things should go better."

About 91 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine have also been shipped, and manufacturers expect to ship a record 114 million doses before the season is over, she said.

Widespread influenza activity is being seen in 48 states "and virtually everything is H1N1," she noted. Influenza-like illnesses last week accounted for 7.7% of visits to doctors' offices last week, down slightly from 8% the week before. "That's way higher than we would normally see at this time of year."

More than half of the hospitalizations continue to be in people under are 25, and 90% of the deaths are in people under 65, she said. In a typical flu season, the vast majority of deaths are in those over 65. There have now been 129 pediatric deaths from laboratory-confirmed swine flu, an increase of 15 since last week. There have been others who have died from flu but typing wasn't done, Schuchat said. About two-thirds of the children had underlying conditions that increased their risk -- particularly severe neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, and asthma.

The CDC said Thursday that it is ordering 10,000 treatment courses of the intravenous antiviral drug peramivir for its national stockpile, at a cost of $22.5 million. The Food and Drug Administration two weeks ago approved emergency use of the experimental drug for severely ill patients who for one reason or another cannot use the oral or intranasal antivirals. Schuchat said the agency has so far disbursed about 300 courses of treatment to physicians around the country.

New York City health officials have been under fire in recent days for allocating doses of the swine flu vaccine to several large companies, particularly Wall Street companies such as Goldman Sachs. New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley on Friday defended that decision, saying that the companies received only 6% of the vaccine allocation and that such companies have traditionally been distributors of flu shots. Schuchat appeared to defend his actions: "The workplace is a very common place for adults to get vaccinated," and there are many priority groups there, including pregnant women, adults with underlying medical conditions and caretakers of young children. "State and local health departments are in the best position to make such decisions."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II