Despite Shortage, US to Donate Swine Flu Vaccine Abroad Through WHO

October 22, 2009 - 5:55 PM
The U.S. is one of 11 countries that have agreed to donate H1N1 vaccine directly to the World Health Organization, which will then decide which countries should get it. The problem is, the U.S. will donate the vaccine at a time when it doesn't have enough to meet demand at home.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified on Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that the United States will help people in other countries get vaccinated for the H1N1 virus even as the United States faces shortages of the vaccine. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – The United States is one of 11 countries that have agreed to donate H1N1 vaccine directly to the World Health Organization, which will then decide which less-developed countries should get it. The problem is, the U.S. will donate the vaccine at a time when it doesn't have enough to meet demand at home.

The federal government is currently 10 million doses shy of the 40 million doses of H1N1 influenza vaccine it said would be available to the American public by the end of October. Nevertheless, the Department of Health and Human Services says it will go ahead with its plan to donate 10 percent of all doses it receives to countries around the world, after meeting its original 40 million goal.

The United States does not know which countries will receive the vaccines, because the immunizations will be given to the World Health Organization (WHO) for distribution.
 
“Our international vaccine donation will be made directly to the World Health Organization, not to specific countries,” Bill Hall, director of the HHS press office, said on Thursday. “The WHO will make the decision on which countries will be the first to get vaccine it has collected from donor nations.”
 
As of Oct. 14, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11,422,900 doses of the N1H1 vaccine had been allocated, 7,971,800 doses were ordered and 5,885,900 doses had been shipped.
 
The CDC is distributing the vaccine to states based on each state’s population; i.e., a state that has 2 percent of the U.S. population will receive 2 percent of the doses shipped to one of 150,000 distribution centers around the country. The CDC also has received requests from states on the amount of vaccine needed.
 
As reported earlier by CNSNews.com, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the Obama administration is trying to “balance” its distribution in the United States with the president’s commitment to being a “global partner.”
 
“We are working with these 11 nations through the World Health Organization to help get the vaccines to countries particularly who can’t purchase them,” Sebelius said. “I mean, that’s really the issue -- the countries who don’t have the wherewithal to purchase vaccines.”
 
“We need to make available some of the vaccine that is available to the developed nations,” Sebelius said.
 
Hall said Sebelius is not concerned that the donations could lead to Americans who want to be vaccinated not having access to the vaccine.
 
“We will have enough vaccine for every American who wants it,” Hall told CNSNews.com. “The vaccine program is not mandatory, and we know some Americans will choose not to receive the vaccine.
 
“We continue to stress that it is most important for those in high-risk populations to receive the vaccine, because they are the groups most likely to have the most severe reaction to the disease,” Hall said.
 
On the “frequently asked questions” page on the H1N1 influenza portion of its Web site, dated Oct. 16, the CDC does not say conclusively that enough vaccine will be available or when all of the vaccine that the United States ordered will be distributed. It states:
 
Question: Will there be enough 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine for everyone who wants it?
 
Answer: It is expected that there will be enough 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine for anyone who chooses to get vaccinated. The US federal government has procured 250 million doses of 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine.
 
This quantity of vaccine accounts for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial data showing that children six months to nine years of age will need two doses and persons 10 and older will need one dose. Limited amounts of 2009 H1N1 vaccine became available in early October, and more will continue to become available over the upcoming weeks.
 
According to the CDC estimates, less than 17 percent of the 250 million doses have been procured to date.