Vaccine availability opens up as doses approach 100 million

The nation is reaching a new milestone in its fight against pandemic flu, with the number of vaccine doses expected to reach 100 million by the end of the week and nearly half of states opening up immunization to anyone who wants it, federal officials said Dec. 17.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Dec. 17 at a media briefing that the achievement marks the next phase in government's response, encouraging the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible to soften the impact of a third wave of infections, should one occur.

As of Dec. 17, the number of vaccine doses available to states for ordering stands at 99.5 million, she said, according to CIDRAP News.

Sebelius credited the Bush administration for the steps it took to prepare the nation for a possible pandemic, and she said the government's planning and responses have always been dictated by science. Federal officials have taken pain to share everything they know as soon as they know it, she added. "But sometimes that meant having to change our estimates."

Partnerships that government departments have built with state and local public health officials during the pandemic response so far will have lasting benefits that will help the nation respond to future threats, she said. "One of the key lessons we learned is you can't mount a public health response only from the beltway."

Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that pandemic events have yielded some positive developments. For example, he said 34 states conducted school-based immunization clinics, a practice that could help tamp down the yearly impact of seasonal flu.

Obstetricians have had some success boosting flu vaccination among pregnant women, and hospital tracking reports suggest more children are receiving treatment for pandemic H1N1, as suggested by federal guidelines, Frieden said.

"But clearly we need to get better at managing expectations," he said, referring to summer federal estimates that the nation would have plenty of vaccine by about the middle of October.