Sebelius to support cholera vaccination in Haiti

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently offered her support to two large-scale vaccination initiatives while visiting Haiti.

Sebelius came out in support of a controversial pilot program to vaccinate Haitians against cholera and another aimed at preventing five childhood diseases, according to NPR.

The secretary's personal endorsement of the cholera vaccination campaign is considered somewhat surprising because U.S. health officials have not supported it behind the scenes. Instead, health officials have stressed programs to support sanitation efforts.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Friedman was decidedly skeptical about the plan. He said that such a vaccine had never been used during an ongoing epidemic and that global supplies of the vaccine were limited.

Haitian health workers noted that some U.S. officials called the plan to vaccinate 100,000 Haitians against cholera a distraction, according to NPR.

An HHS spokesman said that Sebelius would address cholera vaccination efforts during her visit to GHESKIO, a Port-au-Prince health center responsible for vaccinating 50,000 Haitians, mostly those living in the city's slums.

Last month, the CDC's country director for Haiti, Dr. John Vertefueille, said that the CDC has not been negative about the project.

"I'm not aware of skepticism at CDC," Vertefueille said, NPR reports. "At certain points in time we've indicated - and we continue to indicate - that our primary focus is on prevention activities by improvements of water, sanitation, hygiene and good clinical activities."