Ramping Up Swine Flu Preparations

More than a million people have been affected by the H1N1 virus. NPR's Joanne Silberner talks to guest host Jacki Lyden about the status of the vaccine, who should get it and how available it will be nationwide.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden, in for Liane Hansen.

This weekend, the H1N1 swine flu is on many people's minds. While the first vaccines are being distributed across the country, a new report found that there could be a shortage of hospital beds in more than a dozen states. That's what would happen if 35 percent of Americans get sick from the virus.

And the first player in the NFL, Houston Texans' tight end Anthony Hill, was stricken with the swine flu. He was hospitalized for two days. In a moment, we'll hear about a particularly wrenching case of a girl in Texas.

But first, we talk to NPR's Joanne Silberner in Atlanta. That's the home of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hello, Joanne.

JOANNE SILBERNER: Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: So, bring us up to date: Where are we now with this pandemic?

SILBERNER: Well, more than a million people in the country have been infected with this virus. And actually, it's probably a lot more than that. That's a pretty old estimate. According to the CDC, already 60 children have died. Two-thirds of them had other health problems, I should note.

Now, that's 60 kids too many, and children don't usually die from the flu. For adults, the CDC doesn't have a total number for deaths, but it's probably nearing 1,000.

LYDEN: So, what about the timing here? I understand that the first doses of vaccine are getting to the hospitals and clinics now. Is that too late?

SILBERNER: No. It's far from too late. Lots of places haven't been hit yet. And even those that have, it doesn't mean it won't return. That happened last year -last spring, rather, in New York City, where they had a second wave after an initial wave.

And there's going to be some vaccine around, but not all of it. This week, it's going to be about 6 or 7 million doses of that nasal spray vaccine. But there will be some injectable versions coming behind. And it's actually going to go a lot farther than they thought because initially, they were thinking that two shots would be need. Only one shot's needed except for kids under 10, and they may need two.

But it takes effect pretty quickly - within eight to 10 days. So, people who get it, you know, are going to be protected pretty quickly.

LYDEN: Now, you had mentioned last spring - the virus was just discovered last spring and the vaccine just developed. How do we know it's safe?

SILBERNER: That's a great question. It's because it's a lot like the seasonal flu vaccine. In fact, it's essentially the same thing. Every year, they remake the seasonal flu vaccine depending on what's around. This is what's around, and they made it the same way in the same factories. They've been monitoring pretty closely during the tests, and they're going to be monitoring it as they go along, you know.

You can give something to 1,000 people and not see anything; you give it to a million people, you might see something. But they're being pretty careful to check that out. Because there was a bad experience, as you may remember, back in 1976 with the vaccine. They're not expecting that this time around.

LYDEN: Let me ask you a question about pregnant women: They often refuse vaccines, but health officials are saying this one is different.

SILBERNER: They really want pregnant women to get this vaccine because of what they've seen in the numbers. Twenty-eight pregnant women already have died from the swine flu. No one really knows why. They just seem particularly vulnerable. They've been getting sicker. It may be because pregnancy affects the immune system. It may be because in the later months of pregnancy, you're not breathing as deeply. No one's quite sure, but they're really intent on getting pregnant women vaccinated.

LYDEN: So, can anyone get the vaccine? Can you just walk into your doctor's office and ask for it?

SILBERNER: Well, not yet - probably not right now. The states are handling the actual distribution of the vaccine. But what the federal government is asking the states is to really try and focus on health-care workers, people in hospitals, because A, they're more exposed and B, they can transmit it to sick and vulnerable people. So they're focusing on health-care workers first, but there will be some more coming on down the line.

LYDEN: And is there going to be enough to go around?

SILBERNER: Eventually, yeah, though not right away. The number that I keep hearing is there'll be 20 million doses available every week from mid-October on. So eventually yes, there will be enough.

LYDEN: Well, NPR's Joanne Silberner, thanks for telling us about this.

SILBERNER: Thank you.

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