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H1N1 Vaccination: CDC Briefing Boosts Flu Shots and Counters Fears

Created: 30 October, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
4 min read

New America Media

 Two days after Pres. Barack Obama declared the H1N1 flu outbreak a national emergency, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a briefing Monday for ethnic news media in order to debunk fears about flu shots and encourage mass vaccinations as a public health imperative.

 With the overall message that “the flu ends with ‘u’,” CDC representatives described the current extent of the H1N1 pandemic and what the president’s declaration means; how H1N1 differs from the seasonal flu; and the vulnerable populations who should receive flu shots.

 “The declaration of a national emergency is really a way to facilitate making the vaccine available,” said Dr. Andrew Kroger, head of the CDC’s national immunization program. “It makes it easier for hospitals to get it to people, to set up flu clinics faster.”

 While there is no evidence that the H1N1 flu is becoming more severe, the CDC experts cautioned that with more than 1 million people already infected, the risks of the flu for vulnerable populations makes vaccination a safe and effective way to protect them.

 Kroger said the demand for the flu vaccine has been “incredible,” but that the availability of the H1N1 flu vaccine so far has been limited because the government was slow to begin work on it last spring. So far, 16.1 million doses of the H1N1 flu vaccine have been distributed nationally, but another 28 to 30 million doses will be available by the end of the month.

 Unlike the seasonal flu vaccine, which is primarily manufactured and distributed by private pharmaceutical companies, the vaccine for the H1N1 flu is controlled and distributed by the federal government.

 Isabel Gutierrez of KIQI radio said she got a flu shot as a member of Kaiser Permanente health insurance group because she has asthma, a chronic condition that puts her at greater risk for complications from the flu. But she wondered about availability of the shots in the region.

 “Why can’t you find it anywhere else in the Bay Area?” asked Gutierrez.

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 Kroger said that when the vaccine is produced, it is immediately shipped out to state departments of health, said Kroger. Those state health agencies determine how to distribute their allocations of the vaccine.

 The H1N1 flu is different from the seasonal flu, Kroger said, in that it is taking a heavier toll on younger people. The seasonal flu usually affects older people. Pregnant women are also at greater risk of illness and death from the H1N1 flu, he said, which can cause cardiopulmonary complications. Between April and August, some 28 deaths of pregnant women from the H1N1 flu have been confirmed. The total number of confirmed deaths from the H1N1 flu is 500, Kroger said, but “we believe the death count is higher then that. It’s closer to 1,000.”

 “Pregnant women make up 1 percent of the population and they make up 6 percent of the deaths,” he said. “We know when a woman is pregnant, her immune system changes slightly.”

 The briefing was organized by New America Media to provide information to ethnic news media on an issue of widespread concern. Responding to questions from reporters about the safety of the vaccine, Kroger explained that the H1N1 vaccine is produced in the same way as other flu vaccines and receives the same scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration. Side effects from the shot are also the same and typically minimal: redness and pain at the site of the injection. Because the vaccine is produced in eggs, those who have allergic reactions to eggs should not be vaccinated, he cautioned.

 One reporter noted that many immigrants come to the United States with no tradition of receiving flu shots in their home countries and often don’t see the need. “I’ve been here for 20 years, and I never got a shot,” said Joseph Pimentel of Asian Journal. “As an immigrant, you get the flu and it’s not unusual.”

 Alan Janssen, of the CDC’s communications department, emphasized that getting a flu shot was not only important for the individual but for the wider community with whom they interact.

 “There are vulnerable groups out there that you can help protect,” Jensen said. “Unlike the seasonal flu, where we see it affect the elderly, we’re seeing a greater impact on children.”

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