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Flu Vaccine Distribution As Important As Supply In Next Pandemic

Swine flu is so last year.

H1N1 is gone but not forgotten. CDC hide caption

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CDC

H1N1 is gone but not forgotten.

CDC

But at least the federal government vows it has learned a lesson from the pandemic. Yesterday, an all-star cast of officials released a plan for kickstarting flu vaccine production when an outbreak occurs.

The plan is full of worthy goals and benchmarks. Still, there's an obvious missing link — vaccine distribution.

Understandably, government officials focused first on production. After all, many of the problems that plagued the release of the swine flu vaccine during the pandemic could have been relieved by having more vaccine in the first place.

On the other hand, there were also reports of private businesses receiving more doses than hospitals. And despite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's requirement that distributors sign an agreement to give vaccines to at-risk groups like children and pregnant women, some doses were handed out to lower-risk people too soon.

To be fair to the CDC and vaccine distributors, nothing they did could overcome the public's lackluster interest in the vaccine. Once people figured out that swine flu was relatively mild, few bothered to get vaccinated and health officials reasonably decided not to waste the vaccines they were given.

But if a more deadly flu virus rolls around, there are likely to be lines out the door. And according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, distribution infrastructure could be a problem.

"I would say of great concern is the really decimation of the public health infrastructure around the country due to the economic downturn," she says. "A lot of states have severely cut […] the kind of infrastructure in this country which is the backbone of the first responders."

Sebelius emphasized that the focus of this report was producing vaccines, not distributing them. She also said that Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, will continue to maintain relationships with state and local partners to make sure that some distribution infrastructure exists.

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