The swine flu pandemic is likely to have a long-term impact on the U.S. government's strategy for dealing with outbreaks. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is vowing to make sure that the next pandemic will be fought with vaccines that can be produced in vast quantities far faster than we've seen this year. And more of it will be produced in the U.S.
"We were fighting the 2009 H1N1 flu with vaccine technology from the 1950s," Sebelius says. "We could race to begin vaccine production, but there was nothing we could do if vaccine grew slowly in eggs. We could make deals with foreign vaccine producers ahead of time, but we still wouldn't have as much control over the vaccine as if they were based in the U.S. If we wanted to avoid these problems in the future, we needed to make some long-term investments in developing countermeasures that were just as safe and effective, but could be produced faster and more reliably."
With H1N1 vaccine supplies flowing into the U.S., there were widespread signs that the initial shortfall has eased considerably. Some 69 million doses of the vaccine have been made available in the U.S., and regions around the country have started to ease restrictions on who gets a shot.
There is also significant evidence that the new flu vaccine is safe. So far, 10 million Europeans have been jabbed with GlaxoSmithKline's Pandemrix, Novartis's Focetria or Baxter's Celvapan, and there have been no serious incidents reported. Adverse reactions have typically been limited to headache, nausea and fever, which is common for flu vaccines. But new clinical data indicates that infants injected with Pandemrix suffered from a relatively high rate of fever after the second dose. Investigators are staying focused on that trend.