Swine Flu Vaccine Arriving -- Slowly

CDC: Within 2 Weeks, H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine 'Will Seem' Easier to Get

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 27, 2009

Oct. 27, 2009 - The trickle of H1N1 swine flu vaccine should become a steady flow in "a couple of weeks," CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said today.

In late August, federal officials were confident that they'd have some 85 million doses of H1N1 swine flu vaccine by Halloween. Today, with pumpkins already on front porches and only four days until trick-or-treat time, the count stands at just 22.4 million doses.

It's still quite an accomplishment to have created, manufactured, tested, and delivered tens of millions of doses of vaccine in the mere six months since the swine flu virus was discovered. But those earlier over-optimistic predictions and the current nationwide wave of H1N1 swine flu make it seem like too little too late.

"Significantly more vaccine is becoming available. ... In most states, within the next couple of weeks, [the vaccine] will seem to be much more widespread and it will seem much easier than it is now to get vaccinated," Frieden said at a news conference.

A cumulative 22.4 million doses is nothing to sneeze at. It's a remarkable success that began in 2004 when the U.S. decided to ensure a yearlong supply of the hens' eggs in which the vaccine is made, and which continued this spring when the U.S. signed contracts to ensure a huge supply of vaccine.

True, the vaccine is arriving too late to blunt this wave of the flu. But it's not too late for the majority of people who have remained well, even those in areas now seeing the first wave of the flu subside.

"Decreases are quite focal. Different parts of a state, different parts of a city are seeing the [H1N1 swine flu] spread at different times," Frieden said. "Influenza tends to be patchy. That's important because it means that although many people have had H1N1 influenza -- and we wish there had been vaccine for them earlier -- there are still many people at risk. It certainly is not too late to get vaccinated when vaccine becomes available."

Frieden noted the ironic fact that the initial scarcity of H1N1 swine flu vaccine has driven up demand. Eventually, well before the end of the year, there will be enough of the vaccine for every U.S. resident who wants it. When that finally happens, the question is whether people will still be lining up to get it.