NIH summit hopes to heighten pandemic preparedness

As the Obama administration grapples with the question of whether or not to order a massive quantity of swine flu vaccine for this fall, it is holding a one-day summit at the NIH today to get states and communities focused on preparing for a fall flu season that could be unlike anything they've seen before.

A new school year is just weeks away in many areas, and as health officials already know, not all states and communities are equally ready for a sudden surge of swine flu cases as the weather turns cold in the fall. The summit is intended to get local health officials prepared to deal with the pandemic, examining ways to reduce social contact without causing severe disruptions.

"Scientists and public health experts forecast that the impact of H1N1 may well worsen in the fall--when the regular flu season hits, or even earlier, when schools start to open--which is only five or six weeks away in some cases," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said recently.

The swine flu outbreak swiftly grabbed the world's attention when it became evident that the virus was killing some of its victims in Mexico. But it became readily apparent that the virus is also far more mild on average than originally feared. Public fears quickly damped down, but the administration wants health officials to stay alert, particularly if a second round of swine flu involves a more virulent strain of the constantly evolving virus.    

Health officials will have 100 million-plus doses of seasonal flu vaccine on hand for the regular vaccination campaign. But the administration will have to decide in a matter of weeks if it will also order hundreds of millions of doses of swine flu vaccine--which is now being developed by a range of manufacturers. A number of governments around the world are already ordering H1N1 vaccines.

- read the story from the Washington Post
- check out the AP report