Oct. 23, 2009 -- The head of the CDC today voiced his frustration with shortages of the swine flu (H1N1) vaccine.
"We are now in a period where the vaccine's availability is increasing steadily, but far too slowly," CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news conference. "It's frustrating to all of us. We wish there was more vaccine available."
Frieden said the problem is the vaccine production technology, which he called "antiquated ... but tried and true" in terms of its safety.
As of today, about 16 million doses of the vaccine were available to ship to states, and about 11 million doses had been shipped out as of Wednesday. Many of those doses are in the form of a nasal spray, whichis only appropriate for healthy people aged 2-49, except pregnant women, who should only get the flu shot.Doses of the vaccine that are in production are split about half and half between the nasal spray and shots, Frieden said.
Despite the delays in the swine flu vaccine supply, Frieden predicted there will eventually be enough to go around.
"We have confidence in its safety and that ultimately there will be enough vaccine for everyone who wants to get vaccinated," Frieden said.
Frieden noted that if someone comes down with swine flu, getting the H1N1 vaccine later wouldn't help. But he also pointed out that many people who think they've had swine flu may actually have had a cold or other infection, so the CDC recommends getting vaccinated when the vaccine becomes available.
Children account for most of the people who have gotten the H1N1 vaccine, Freiden said.
The CDC has also received some reports of shortages of the seasonal flu vaccine, which doesn't protect against the swine flu virus. That shortage is the result of an "unprecedented" number of people getting the seasonal flu vaccine earlier than expected, Frieden said.
Flu is widespread in 46 states, which Frieden says is at "peak" level. He also cautioned that there's no way to know how long that peak will last.
Since the beginning of the swine flu pandemic, the U.S. has had more than 1,000 deaths and more than 20,000 hospitalizations from H1N1 flu.
Asked about lingering concerns about the swine flu vaccine's safety, Frieden said he could understand why some people have such concerns about a new vaccine. But he stressed that the H1N1 vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine are very similar.
The swine flu vaccine has "the same manufacturing process, the same manufacturers, the same factories, the same safeguards as the seasonal flu vaccine that's used for more than 100 million doses each year and has an excellent safety record," Frieden said. "The enemy here is a virus."