Sebelius: H1N1 Declaration Cuts Red Tape
This weekend , a move that should help hospitals deal with the surge of patients.
The latest information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 1,000 Americans have died from H1N1. The virus is responsible for more than 20,000 hospitalizations.
Many people across the country spent their weekend standing in line for hours waiting to get vaccinated against H1N1, and many found that they were too late, turned away when available doses were gone.
As of today, about 16 million doses have been made available. CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton says it is doubtful whether the emergency declaration will have any impact on vaccine production.
On Monday Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged the frustration of Americans waiting in lines for vaccinations. "I don't want to minimize the anxiety of a lot of parents who want to get their kids vaccinated, but we do have a vaccine that works.
"It works with everybody over ten years old with one dose, and the immune response hits more quickly than we anticipated, so actually as of today, we'll have about 16.5 million doses available throughout the country."
She said vaccines were being pushed out the door as fast as they come off the line.
Appearing on CBS' "The Early Show" this morning, Sebelius said that the government's earlier prediction that there would be 120 million doses ready by now was based on information received from vaccine manufacturers, which grow the drugs in chicken eggs — a process that can take months. (Using cell- and tissue-based cultures for vaccine production is still a relatively new technology but promises a much shorter production time.)
"What we were doing is relying on the manufactures to give us their numbers," Sebelius said, "and as soon as we got numbers, we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy, that the projections were too high a couple of months ago and we got updated projections as recently as Columbus Day."
CBSNews.com Special Report: H1N1 Virus
When asked by "Early Show" anchor Maggie Rodriguez if the president's emergency declaration this weekend — which allows medical officials to bypass certain federal regulations in order to confront the outbreak — was aimed at pacifying criticism from people who believe the government isn't doing enough, Sebelius said, "We've been doing a lot since the virus was first identified in late April.
"Unfortunately," she said, "yelling at an egg doesn't make it grow any faster. So what we're dealing with is an egg-based technology [in which] the growth rate is slower than expected."
Saturday's declaration came after the CDC announced that 1,000 Americans had died form H1N1, and 20,000 had been hospitalized. Yet, Rodriguez pointed out, "There are 36,000 deaths from seasonal flu, there are 200,000 people hospitalized each year, and we don't declare a national emergency. Why now?"
"The national emergency is to give the Department of Health and Human Services some flexible authority in case it's needed," Sebelius replied. "The president, I think wisely, has wanted to get a step ahead at every point along the way, so he directed us immediately in April to contract with the five manufacturers to start the vaccine production. So here we are. six months later, we have a vaccine that works."
She said the national emergency declaration would cut a week or two's worth of bureaucratic hurdles. "So it really just clears the deck for some flexible activity and flexible permission in case it's needed."
For more info::
Flu.gov: Where To Get Your Flu Shots
CDC: Learn More About H1N1
CDC: What To Do If You Get Sick
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