July 20, 2009 -- Pandemic swine flu doesn't worry most Americans. That's likely to change very quickly.
Well before fall 2009, most U.S. schools will open. That's when experts warn the second wave of the pandemic may start sweeping the U.S. If that happens, the U.S. -- as well as the rest of the world -- needs to be prepared for the worst. A pandemic that sickens millions could close schools and businesses, halt travel, and overwhelm health care facilities.
Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts
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"A pandemic is much more than a health event," Bruce Gellin, MD, MPH, director of the National Vaccine Program Office and deputy assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to coordinate U.S. vaccination efforts, tells WebMD. "Given the way a pandemic could play out, it has consequences across government and across society."
The best defense: A vaccine to protect people from swine flu -- before the pandemic peaks. Will there be a vaccine? Perhaps not that soon. And the clock is ticking away the short amount of time before federal officials, including President Barack Obama, have to make hard choices about whether -- and how fast -- to get swine flu shots to everyone who wants one. Or at least to those who most need one.
One choice already is made: The U.S. government has spent $1.15 billion to buy enough vaccine to immunize the entire U.S. population against the new flu. If the government makes the decision to go ahead with a full-scale vaccination program, it would be the largest, fastest vaccination program in world history.
So what will happen, and when? Here's WebMD's timeline, based on meetings and interviews with a number of flu experts. Warning: Flu viruses -- and flu vaccine production -- are notoriously unpredictable. Many things can change, even by the earliest points of this timeline.
Making and Testing the Swine Flu Vaccine
Pandemic swine flu vaccine is already rolling off the production lines of the five different vaccine makers supplying the U.S: 46% will come from Novartis, 26% will come from Sanofi Pasteur, 19% will come from CSL, 6% will come from MedImmune, and 3% will come from GlaxoSmithKline.
By mid-July, clinical tests of the vaccines sponsored by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases will begin at the eight Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati; Emory University, Atlanta; Group Health Cooperative, Seattle; Saint Louis University; University of Iowa, Iowa City; University of Maryland, Baltimore; and Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
The five vaccine manufacturers will also start separate clinical tests in the U.S., Australia, and Europe. These tests will begin in July and August.
On July 29, the CDC's vaccine advisory committee will vote on who should be first in line to get the vaccine. Current indications suggest that children 0 to 4 years old will be will be at the top of the list, followed by school-age children. Children with asthma and pregnant women are also likely high-priority groups, as are critical emergency-response workers.