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Everyone in US ‘should get flu vaccine’

Washington, February 25, 2010

Everyone in the US over the age of six months should get seasonal influenza vaccines every year, federal vaccine advisers have said.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices made the long-awaited vote to recommend virtually universal flu vaccination -- something public health experts have long recommended.

"The new recommendation seeks to remove barriers to influenza immunization and signals the importance of preventing influenza across the entire population," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

Earlier, experts told the committee that people who were morbidly obese and school-aged children were much more likely to become seriously ill or to die from H1N1 swine flu, as opposed to seasonal flu, which mostly kills the frail elderly.

Preliminary data showed the morbidly obese had four times the rate of hospitalizations and deaths, while the death rate for children was five times higher than usual, CDC experts at said.

They are working up detailed studies of the pandemic in the US, the CDC's Dr Nancy Cox, Dr Anne Schuchat and Dr Lyn Finelli told the meeting.

The World Health Organization says it is too early to say the pandemic had peaked globally, although it has clearly waned in North America and Europe.

Cox said the pandemic version of H1N1 had clearly replaced its distant cousin, seasonal H1N1, this year.

WHO and advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration chose this week to replace the seasonal H1N1 component in next season's flu vaccine with the swine flu strain.

Not seasonal yet

But Cox said it is too soon to say H1N1 is just one of several circulating seasonal influenza strains.

"We have yet to see what would happen in the Southern Hemisphere. We would prefer not to jump the gun and say the 2009 H1N1 virus is a seasonal virus," she said.

Vaccine makers must reformulate the three-ingredient seasonal flu vaccine every year because of such changes.

The US has contracts with five influenza vaccine makers -- Novartis, AstraZeneca unit MedImmune, Sanofi Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Australian vaccine maker CSL.

The CDC estimates H1N1 has killed up to 17,000 people in the US alone.

That figure compares to about 36,000 people killed every year by seasonal flu, but Finelli noted that it takes months to gather data on deaths. Flu weakens people who then can die of heart attacks or strokes, and Finelli said once that data is included, deaths this season from swine flu may be more than the normal 36,000.

The CDC and WHO both say people who have not been vaccinated should still get an H1N1 vaccine.

The CDC's Dr. James Singleton told the meeting that by February 13, 97 million H1N1 vaccine doses had been given to 86 million people in the US, or 78 per cent of doses shipped.

Singleton said a monthly telephone survey of 6,000 US households suggested that a third of children, many of whom need two doses, and about 20 per cent of adults had received swine flu vaccines.

People will need seasonal flu vaccines, too, Cox noted.

Globally, H1N1 or untypeable viruses likely to be H1N1 made up about 90 per cent of viruses taken from patients, but H3N2 flu viruses accounted for nearly 6 per cent and are on the rise in China. And a new variant of H3N2 has emerged that is different from the one covered in the current season's vaccine. – Reuters




Tags: WHO | vaccine | flu | Washington | H1N1 |

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