Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has told Congress that the nation has taken adequate measures to protect Americans against wider outbreaks of the H1N1 flu strain. Sebelius also announced the availability by October of initial doses of a new flu vaccine.
Secretary Sebelius says the government will ensure that enough vaccine is available to everyone who wants it as the regular flu season gets underway.
"There will be enough vaccine," said Kathleen Sebelius. "What we are concerned about is getting it to the priority populations as quickly as possible and that is what we have asked the states to focus on, how to get pregnant women, children under the age of 24, care-givers of infants, health care workers, how to make sure that those folks get to the front of the line if you will."
As Sebelius testified to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it had approved a new vaccine, to be produced by four companies, that protects against the 2009 H1N1 strain.
As part of its planning for the upcoming flu season, the government ordered 195 million doses of vaccine to be distributed across the country, although individual states make decisions on distribution, including steps to get it to the most vulnerable populations as quickly as possible.
Referring to the global spread of H1N1, Sebelius said one piece of good news is that evidence to date shows the virus has not changed to a more deadly form.
However, she noted that H1N1 infections continued over the summer in the U.S. affecting children and pregnant women, and she said the situation needs to be closely monitored.
"The virus is infecting more people than we typically see with seasonal flu, including children, younger adults and pregnant women, and slowing the spread of the virus is a responsibility shared by all of us," she said.
Democrat Congressman Henry Waxman, who chairs the House committee, said the government appears to have prepared adequately for the coming flu season, and the potential that H1N1 will make it worse.
"As a nation we must be prepared for whatever the H1N1 virus brings in its path, to fight it as best we can, and to ensure adequate and appropriate resources to treat those who fall seriously ill," he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended in July that initial doses of the new H1N1 vaccine be given to pregnant women, persons caring for children younger than six months, health care and emergency services personnel, people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, and those with chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the H1N1 flu could infect as many as one-third of the world's population. WHO advised countries in the northern hemisphere to prepare for a second wave of pandemic H1N1, saying it is the dominant influenza strain in most parts of the world.