CDC Adviser: Swine Flu Vaccine, Virus In Race

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is releasing recommendations for which groups of people should go first when the swine flu vaccine becomes available this fall. Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, who advises the CDC's immunization committee, says the agency is focusing on those people most affected by the H1N1 virus.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand in California.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is releasing recommendations for which groups of people should go first when the swine flu vaccine becomes available this fall. At the head of the line would be pregnant women, and we'll be hearing more about that in a moment. First, for specifics of what the CDC is saying, we turn to Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt, who is one of the experts advising the CDC's immunization committee. Welcome back to the program.

Dr. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER (Department of Preventive Medicine, Vanderbilt University): Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, we understand there won't be enough vaccine for everyone, at least at the beginning. So, how is the CDC prioritizing who gets it? What's the principle at work here?

Dr. SCHAFFNER: Yes, they're focusing on those individuals who have been most affected by this novel H1N1 virus so far. And it includes household and caregiver contact to children younger than six months of age, because we can't vaccinate them personally, and then children and young adults from six months through 24 years of age. And then persons older than that, age 19 through 64, who have medical conditions associated with a high risk of complications of influenza. And in addition to all those patients, we and health care should also get ourselves vaccinated, so we can remain healthy to take care of the sick.

SIEGEL: So, we're talking about age groups and also activities, occupations, as well, that drive who gets it when.

Dr. SCHAFFNER: Exactly.

SIEGEL: Where would people get the swine flu vaccine?

Dr. SCHAFFNER: Well, it will vary a little bit by state by state. But certainly through public health clinics and also through partners, that is, they're now just developing relationships with private physicians, perhaps through pharmacies and certainly through hospitals. So, there ought to be a number of venues in your locality.

SIEGEL: It seems to be a bit of a race here. It's predicted that swine flu will begin spreading quickly once the school year begins and lots of kids are together all the time. In some parts of the country that's all of three weeks away, how much vaccine will be available at the beginning?

Dr. SCHAFFNER: There won't be any available right at the beginning, I'm afraid. And it is a race. We hope that the first deliveries can come through sometime in mid-October and then every week thereafter. So it is indeed a race. We hope that the vaccine can get there before the virus does.

SIEGEL: We've been reporting lately about how people will know that the vaccine is safe. How can they know if the studies of safety won't be completed until well into what you're predicting to be a very early flu season?

Dr. SCHAFFNER: Well, we can take some great deal of comfort from the fact that this vaccine is being produced exactly as the annual influenza vaccine is produced. And, you know, we create a new vaccine each year, which we then give in the hundreds of millions of doses. And so, we anticipate that this vaccine will be just as safe as the regular vaccine. And on top of that, we will have a monitoring system for adverse events. We'll be watching this like a hawk.

SIEGEL: Did I catch in the various age groups that you listed that people say over 65 would be the lowest priority to receive the vaccine?

Dr. SCHAFFNER: Yeah, right at the beginning. You noticed that. And that's because interestingly enough, those age 65 and over, for whom we recommend the annual vaccine very definitively, actually have been spared the impact - the illness impact of this new virus. And that's because those of us with some gray hair must have seen a relative of this virus some 40 years ago and developed some protection which remains. So, we're asking older folks to, at least at the beginning, get to the back of the line.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Schaffner, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Dr. SCHAFFNER: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGLE: That's Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt, one of the experts who advises the CDC's immunization committee.

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