Thursday, November 19, 2009


From a policy perspective, three new events have emerged with respect to the public response to the H1N1 swine flu. One is the realization that public health officials have been under-reporting the number of infected people, hospitalizations and deaths. This has since been corrected so that it is now estimated that 22 million people have thus far contracted the H1N1 swine flu. This contracting of data has also resulted in the CDC reporting that they now people that we have had 540 pediatric deaths (i.e. youth 18 years and younger) and 4000 overall deaths from the H1N1 swine flu thus far. This is a wake-up call - since it is a significantly larger number of deaths and infected persons than had previously been reported.

The second policy event that has emerged is the realization that significantly less than the projected amount of H1N1 swine flu vaccine has been produced and distributed. Because what has been distributed as been freely distributed to almost anyone who wanted it given the assumption that there would be an ample supply, the result is that many (if not most) of the people at the highest risk of death from the H1N1 swine flu have not been able to receive the vaccine as promised. This is the opposite experience in Europe and other developed countries where the flu vaccine is being distributed through appointments so that all individuals at the highest risk of death receive the vaccine first. In the U.S., however, basically no priority has been given to those individuals at the highest risk - leaving high risk individuals to do what they can to find the vaccine given the chaotic distribution system in the U.S. and the resultant long lines where often more people are turned away than receive the vaccine.

The third policy even that has emerged is a realization that the U.S. errored in not developing U.S. manufacturing capacity, and instead relying upon foreign company suppliers. In this regard, because the U.S. had been reduced to only one licensed flu vaccine manufacturer in the United States when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic hit - the U.S. turned to overseas manufacturers to provide the additional required supply of the H1N1 swine fluvaccine. Unfortunately, signing up new manufacturers led to unexpected production problems. Also, the use of overseas manufacturers led to the unexpected problem of Canada and Australia block the shipment of the contracted for vaccines to the U.S. until such time as the total vaccine demand for their own countries could be filled. All of this led to the current crisis where the federal govenment expected to deliver 120 million doses of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine by mid-October, but was only able to deliver 28 million doses by mid-October.

Together, these new policy issues raise significant questions as to what should be done to correct this problem of not enough vaccine being available and of the fact that the highest risk individuals are not being given priority, and thus are not receiving the vaccine (which predictably will lead to a higher death rate than what otherwise would be the case). All of these new policy issues also raise the question as to how the government should respond if the high number of H1N1 swine flu hospitalizations and deaths continue - or even increase - as we get into December and January. There are also two even more frightening possibilties. One is that the H1N1 swine flu mutates, so that we need to produce a new vaccine - or that experience shows that a second shot needs to be given. But the even more frightening possibilitiy is the potential for the H1N1 swine flu to mutate and merge with the Avian flu virus, since the H1N1 swine flu actually already contains elements from the Avian flu virus. This would be a disastrous scenario since the current death rate for the Avian flu virus is that 70 percent of the people who contract it die from it.

Following are the companies currently licensed by the U.S. to produce the H1N1 swine flu vaccine for distribution in the U.S.:

(1) Sanofi Pasteur is located in the United States in Pennsylvania. It has produced 50 percent of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine thus far distributed in the U.S. It is the great success story of the vaccine suppliers for the U.S.

(2) CSL is located in Australia. It "was" expected to be one of the primary suppliers of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine to the U.S., but was blocked by the government of Austrialia from shipping any vaccine to the U.S. until all of the demand in Australia was satisfied.

(3) GlaxoSmithKline is another company contracted to supply the vaccine and is located in Canada. Unfortunately, the Canada govenment blocked it from supplying any of its H1N1 swine flu vaccine to the American market until demand in Canada was fully satisfied.

(4) Novartis Vaccines is located in Liverpool, England. It was also expected to be one of the primary supplies of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine to the U.S., but encountered production problems. It nevertheless has shipped 18 million vaccine doses to the U.S.

(5) Medimmune is the principal producer of the nasal mist form of the vaccine and has shipped all of the 42 million doses of the nasal mist vaccine it was contracted to supply - but a significant amount of the supplies shipped to the U.S. have yet to be distributed.
One additional issue that has arisen is the fact that all other industrialized countries have contracted for an "adjuvanted" version of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. This allows for a quadruple the amount of vaccine that can be produced and has the added benefit of potentially providing for protection in case the H1N1 swine flu virus mutates. Even though the use of the adjuvant was approved for use in Europe as far back as 1999, the FDA in the U.S. has yet to license its use in the U.S. Ironically, the U.S. has purchased a large supply of the adjuvant that it is not using - but is keeping in storage in Louisville, Kentucky. Given the shortage of vaccine in the U.S. and the unexected number of people infected this early in the season with the H1N1 swine flu, many urge that the U.S. shift to the use of an adjuvant vaccine.

Monday, November 16, 2009

5 Reported Cases In U.S. of Guillame-Barre Syndrome As Adverse Reaction and Complication From H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine

H1N1 Swine Flu Update As Of November 16, 2009 --This past week a Washington, D.C. television station aired the story of a student in Northern Virgina who came down with Guillame-Barre Syndrome a day after receiving both the H1N1 swine flu and seasonal flu vaccines. The day after receiving the vaccines, he developed severe muscle twitches and spasms and became partially paralyzed. While he is recovering, he has to use a walker to enable him to walk until he recovers more fully. Commenting on the story in a television interview, the Director of the National Institutes of Health confirmed that there have been 5 cases thus far in the U.S. of individuals developing Guillame-Barre Syndrome after receiving the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. He explained, however, that the government has never stated that the H1N1 swine flu vaccine was totally safe. Instead, he explained that it is a matter of balancing risks - and that the risk of death for young people and high-risk individuals from contracting the H1N1 swine flu is much greater than the risk of any adverse reaction or complication from the vaccine. To support his argument, European countries have reported a doubling of the number of pediatric deaths frm the H1N1 swine flu in just 4 days while the number of pediatric deaths from the H1N1 swine flu in the United States has risen from 144 a week ago to 540 - or over a three-fold increase in just a week. To put such a high number of pediatric deaths from the H1N1 swine flu in perspective, in a normal flu season there are only a total of 80 of pediatric deaths during an entire flu season -- yet here the flu season has just begun and there is already 540 pediatric deaths from the H1N1 swine flu. Pediatric deaths are defined as deaths of young people 18 years and younger. During a typical flu season, 90 percent of the individuals seeking medical treatment are age 65 or older. With the current H1N1 swine flu pandemic, however, 90 percent of the individuals seeking medical treatment are under the age of 65. This makes the H1N1 swine flu more like the 1918 flu pandemic than seasonal flu outbreaks. Thus far, health officials estimate that 22 million Americans have contracted the H1N1 swine flu. Of this number, it is estimated that 8 million have been young people 18 years or younger, with 36,000 of these young people requiring hospitalization and 540 dying. It is for this reason, the Director of the National Institutes of Health argues, that the benefits of receiving the H1N1 swine flu vaccine and being protected greatly outweigh the risks of receiving the vaccine.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Child Deaths and Hospitalizations from H1N1 Swine Flu Continues To Rise - Update as of Monday, Nov. 9, 2009

The vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths from the H1N1 swine flu continues to be children, with the total of each increasing with every week. This past week, there were 15 child deaths confirmed by lab results as being from the H1N1 swine flu and 3 additional child deaths that were problably from the H1N1 swine flu. Since just August 30, 2009 (i.e. since school has stated), there have been a total of 80 childhood deaths in the U.S. from the H1N1 swine flu virus. And since the flu pandemic first broke in April, there have been a total of 144 child deaths. On a local level, the news hits communities hard. As an example, a 9 year old died of the swine flu in Oklahoma City while a 23 month old child died of the swine flu in Oklahoma City. In Chattanoogoa, Tennessee, a child has recently died of the swine flu while 3 others are ill from the swine flu. Everyone, are heart-breaking stories of children dying from the H1N1 swine flu, even though normally the flu is a disease that does not affect the yung. Meanwhile, as one can see from the data, the number of hospitalizations and deaths of young children who have contracted the H1N1 swine flu continues to risk with every week. Also, 99 percent of all flu cases laboratory tested have been confirmed to be the H1N1 swine flu. Clearly, the United States if facing an unprecedented public health crisis where it is still too early to confirm just how deathly this current flu pandemic will turn out to be. As to it being a pandemic, there is no doubt, as infections from the H1N1 swine flu are widespread throughout the United States and the world. Of great concern continues to be the severe shortage of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. The CDC has originally projected to have 140 million does of the vaccine by mid-October (i.e for a population of 350 million). By the middle of October, however, the CDC had only delivered some 14 million does and as of the latest update, it has only shipped slightly over 26 million does. This leaves an insufficient supply of the vaccine -- even for those individuals at the highest risk and who thus should have been able to receive the vaccine by now. Some individuals are now wondering whether the opening of schools should have been delayed until there was a sufficient number of doses of the vaccine to vaccinate young school-age children, especially since they are experiencing the great deaths. This presents a moral deilemmia for many parents as to whether they should send their children to school when they know their school has experienced a number of H1N1 swine flu illnesses, and thus risk the life of their children. Meanwhile, protectors in New York and elsewere have protested the fact that Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs have been given supplies of the vaccine to give to their employees at times when local health departments report having no supplies and schools are reporting that they have yet to receive any vaccine to vaccine their children.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009 - Study Indicates For First Time Why And What People Die From H1N1 Swine Flu

A study of 1,088 people hospitalized from the H1N1 swine flu in California between August 11-23 indicates for the first time why and what people are dying from the H1N1 swine flu. In this regard, the study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicated that 11 percent, or 118 patients died. Nearly a third of the hospitalized patients had no underlying health conditions. What was surprising, however, was that 20 percent of all patients 50 years of age or older died from the H1N1 swine flu while only 2 percent of those patients 18 years or younger died of the H1N1 swine flu. This does not change the previously observed phenomenon that more younger people are contracting the H1N1 swine flu, indicating that potentially people 50 years or older have some limited immunity. But of those patients 50 years of age or older who have to be hospitalized from the H1N1 swine flu, for some reason they have by far the highest death rate. The study also indicated that 30 percent of all patients, or 340 patients, who were hospitalized had to be treated in intensive care. Despite the significantly higher death rates among elderly persons hospitalized from the H1N1 swine flu, the CDC has announced that it will continue to give priority to vaccinating young people because of their higher rate of contracting the virus.

Monday, November 2, 2009

2009 H1N1 Swine Flu Update As Of November 2, 2009

The above map produced by the CDC shows that essentially all people with flu symptoms in the United States and Canada have tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 swine flu. This confirms what health officials have been saying - which is that the seasonal influenza has yet to emerge and that if you have flu symptoms you are almost certain to have the 2009 H1N1 swine flu. Meanwhile, Dr. Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reported that there was a significant upsurge in child H1N1 swine flu deaths with many more likely to occur over the coming weeks and months. Just this last week alone, there were 114 child deaths of the H1N1 swine flu, the largest weekly total since the flu outbreak occured back in April. He indicated that clearly the H1N1 swine flu is become more virulent and widespread throughout the population, and especially among the young now that children have returned to school. Unfortunately, he also had to report that the last 234,000 doses of liquid Tamiflu have been released from the national stockpile. Tamiflu is an antiviral medicine which, if given at the first symptoms of the flu, can reduce its severity. Unfortunately, young children cannot take the capsule form of Tamiflu that adults can. Instead, young children must take the liquid form. Hence, the fact that the last supplies of liquid Tamiflu have had to be released from the national stockpile raises concerns as to how to treat young people who contract the H1N1 swine flu after the supply of Tamiflu runs out. Older children and adults can also take Relenza, a similar antiviral medicine. But children 7 years of younger or older children with asthma or other respiratory conditions cannot take Relenza. Totally, the World Health Organization now reports over 5,000 deaths from the H1N1 swine flu, with Iceland and Sudan just reporting there first deaths from the H1N1 swine flu. The vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths, however, have been in North America (i.e. the United States, Canada and Mexico). In North America, it has also been reported that otherwise health young adults and adults up to the age of 50 for some reason are also experiencing a high percentage of hospitalizations and deaths. This is contrary to earlier reports which had thought that only older children and adults with underlying health conditions had died. More comprehensive statistics, indicate, however, that many young adults and adults up to age 50 with no underlying health conditions are being hospitalized and dying. As an example, two young adults of 18 years old with no underlying health conditions died at the end of this past week in Maryland. In response to the large number of students absent with flu symptoms, the number of school closings across the country because of the swine flu continues to rise, with Grafton High School in Boston being the last school to close. A recent study of the Brookings Institution that such school closings because of the H1N1 swine flu could cost the country between $10 and $47 billion. Schools across the country are cancelling programs to award students at the end of the school year for perfect attendance records in an effort to shift priorties to encouraging students to remain home if they are ill. Similar programs to emphasize attendance less and to encourage sick employees to stay home are being undertake by hospitals and other business employers who can ill afford to have their work forces devastated with a large number of absences at once. Also, airlines are becoming more lenient on offering refunds or waiving re-booking fees for air travelers who feel they cannot make their flights because of flu-like symptoms.