CDC sees opportunity as flu wanes, vaccine supply grows

Decreasing pandemic flu activity and growing supplies of vaccine offer a window of opportunity for people to protect themselves from the virus, especially if the nation experiences a third wave of infections, said the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At a press briefing Dec. 1, Thomas Frieden said the number of pandemic vaccine doses available to states for ordering has grown to about 70 million, nearly 9 million more than the CDC's last vaccine supply report on Nov 25, CIDRAP News reported.

On Nov. 30, the CDC reported that flu activity was widespread in only 32 states, down 11 since the previous weekly update.

"Only time will tell what the rest of the season will bring," he said. "There are still lots of kids who are sick and lots of people who are at risk of getting influenza and could end up getting severely ill from it."

Frieden said the CDC conducted an informal poll of about a dozen of the world's leading influenza experts to see if they think there will be another wave of pandemic infections in the months ahead. He said half said yes, half said not likely, and one advised officials to "flip a coin."

"We don't know what the future will hold. What we can do is track it [the virus] very closely," Frieden said.

CDC scientists have been closely tracking a mutation identified in Norway and previously found in samples from other countries.

Frieden said so far scientists have determined that the mutation is present in fewer than 10 percent of very severe or fatal pandemic H1N1 infections, and they know that the virus can cause deep lung infections without the mutation.

Also, scientists haven't seen any clusters of cases involving the mutation and haven't associated it with antiviral resistance or a change in vaccine effectiveness, Frieden said.

"It's interesting, but not something we should be unduly concerned about."