H1N1 Poses "Serious" Threat, Group Says

The H1N1 (swine) flu virus won't resemble the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, but it still "poses a serious health threat" to Americans, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said in a report released Monday.

The government should speed availability of at least a little H1N1 vaccine next month instead of in October, the scientific advisers recommended Monday.

The report also urges that federal health officials do more social networking to put the young people targeted by the virus on notice; clarify who should use anti-flu drugs and how; and improve tracking of the fast-moving virus.

The Obama administration said it already is taking many of the steps recommended in the 68-page report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group of leading scientists. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects to issue revised flu treatment guidelines by month's end. It reports over 300,000 followers of its emergency Twitter, up from 30,000 when swine flu first struck in the spring.

Yet officials at a CDC conference in Atlanta defended the schedule for the nearly $2 billion H1N1 vaccine program, insisting that it will be safe and effective, reports CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton. They were skeptical of the Presidential council's Call to begin vaccinating in September, one month early.

"We still think mid-October is a good target for the major production to roll off," Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "It's possible some of the companies could accelerate that."

Health officials are concerned that the H1N1 flu could peak in early fall, because most infections are among young people and they spread the virus very easily, Ashton reports.

"When school starts again, there will be the likelihood that those folks that are most likely to get H1N1 - the school-age population - will be back together and you'll see an increase in disease again," Dr. Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division, told Ashton.

Today, CDC doctors said this year's flu season presents a unique challenge: an H1N1 flu season with many young people sick in the fall, followed by the regular seasonal flu in the winter that strikes the elderly particularly hard.

"We need to be prepared for both," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden "The only thing that's certain is uncertainty."

The vaccine issue is may be difficult. The council recommended that manufacturers begin packaging bulk vaccine into vials and syringes immediately so some could be available in September for those at high-risk, rather than awaiting the results of studies under way to settle dosing and other questions. The government already has asked all five manufacturers to bottle its doses as soon as they're ready "to assure the earliest possible availability," says a White House progress update.

But just last week, health officials announced a delay with swine flu vaccine production for a number of reasons, including a logjam at those packaging factories. While the government initially expected to launch swine flu vaccinations with 120 million available doses around Oct. 15, it now estimates it will have just 45 million doses on hand then - with about 20 million more shipped each week through December.

There's plenty of vaccine against regular winter flu, which also is expected to circulate, and clinics and retailers have begun those inoculations.

Last week, a study in the journal Science recommended and their parents as the best way to minimize a flu outbreak.

Dr. Richard Wenzel has tracked the H1N1 virus since it emerged this past spring. He traveled the last few months during the winter season in the southern hemisphere. The virus itself has not changed but he found its symptoms mysterious.

"In a number of countries, maybe 30 percent of the patients on admission had no fever," he said. "This is unusual in influenza."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com