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Yesterday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that U.S. drug regulators have approved a vaccine against the H1N1 virus, commonly known as "swine flu." The U.S. government has purchased 195 million doses of the vaccine and to give them out for free to anyone who wants it.
According to Dr. Richard Wenzel, chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, this is one of the largest medical initiatives in the history of influenza.
He says the distribution of the vaccine should happen relatively quick, "The way it works is health departments submit an order to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC has an agreement with the distributor, McKesson. McKesson then ships to the end-user's clinics, health departments, hospitals, mass vaccination sites. So all that should occur pretty quickly once it's available."
The vaccine itself will be free, but says Dr. Wenzel, there could still be a cost to the public, "Unless you're at one of the large public health vaccination clinics, there may be a vaccine delivery fee, and that can be $15 dollars or so at some clinics."
Historically, distribution and not manufacturing has been the major cause of vaccine shortages, but Dr. Wenzel believes that shouldn't be an issue with the H1N1 vaccine. He says the real issue is whether the majority of the population would accept the vaccine.
While preventative measures such as hand-washing are important, Dr. Wenzel says getting vaccinated should be a priority, "The vaccine is really ... the keystone always of an infection control program.
"We do have an epidemic that targets particularly young adults and children, some of whom are dying of preventable infection; we have a lot of uncertainty whether this virus will get more aggressive or not, or resistant to our drugs."
For more info, visit the H1N1 Flu Vaccination Resources page on the CDC website.
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