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U.S. Government to Fund H1N1 Vaccinations

While it is not a foregone conclusion that Americans will be offered the vaccine, Sebelius said plans were on track for a mid-October vaccination program.

“We have already appropriated about a billion dollars to buy the bulk ingredients,” Sebelius told a swine flu summit at the National Institutes of Health.

She said another $7.5 billion was available from emergency preparedness funds.

“We may end up averting a crisis. That’s our hope,” Obama told the summit by video link from the G8 meeting of industrial nations in Italy.

Speaking from Italy, President Obama told health officials that they need to help the federal government promote “vigilance and preparation” against the new strain of flu that has killed more than 400 people around the world since March.

“The most important thing for us to do in this process is to make sure that state and local officials prepare now to implement a vaccination program in the fall, but also that they are working on an overall public communications campaign with the White House and the possibilities that we may need to be dealing with schools that are seeing significant outbreaks of H1N1,” Mr. Obama said.

HHS will make $350 million available to states by the end of July to help prepare for the fall flu season, Sebelius said. States must apply for grants of the money and explain how it would be spent.

She said it was possible that the federal government would seek reimbursement from private insurers — which usually pay to vaccinate their patients — but it was unlikely.

Sebelius said it appeared that any vaccination campaign would focus on young adults and older children and older people with underlying health conditions such as asthma and pregnancy, who are more likely to develop severe symptoms from influenza.

But, Sebelius noted, flu viruses are unpredictable.”Prepare to be surprised at every step of the way,” she said.

Although federal health officials lead an annual seasonal influenza vaccination campaign, this one is likely to be different, Sebelius told Reuters.

“We are likely to have a different target population,” Sebelius said. “We will be seeking partnerships with schools potentially and other vaccination sites.”

Several pharmaceutical companies are working on an H1N1 swine flu vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a July 23 advisory panel meeting to discuss clinical trials of the vaccines against the H1N1 influenza virus.

Companies working on an H1N1 vaccine include Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis AG, Baxter International Inc, GlaxoSmithKline, Solvay and nasal spray maker MedImmune, now part of AstraZeneca.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has said patients with mild symptoms may not need any medicines to recover, and that hospital visits are not necessary unless those infected with flu have certain warning signs.

In other H1N1 news, a report released this week showed that many local health departments in the United States were slow to alert residents to the public health threat posed by the H1N1 influenza virus in April.

Researchers at the non-profit Rand Corp research organization said only a third of 153 local health departments surveyed posted information about the new flu on their Web sites within the first 24 hours after federal health officials declared a public health emergency.

State health departments did better with 46 of 50 posting some information about the outbreak within 24 hours of the federal announcement, according to the study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Meanwhile, new cases are being reported around the globe. In Afghanistan, 14 new cases of the H1N1 flu virus were reported among U.S. citizens on the main U.S. military base, the Afghan Health Ministry said Wednesday, marking the second confirmed cases in three months.


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