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With More than a Million Cases, U.S. Prepares for Swine Flu Vaccination Campaign

At least one million people in the United States are infected with the novel H1N1 flu virus, far more than the official case count, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday. The startling statistic is based on epidemiologic modeling, CDC’s Lyn Finelli told the Advisory Committee For Immunization Practices, a group that advises the U.S. government on vaccine use. ACIP has met for the past 3 days in Atlanta to discuss, among other things, ways to contain the pandemic.

The pandemic flu vaccine isn’t ready yet, nor are recommendations on who should get it. But states and cities should already start planning for a massive vaccination campaign this fall. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told journalists during a press conference following the ACIP meeting. She said they should think about how to get the vaccine to those at the highest risk for severe illness: “We want states and communities and health care providers to be thinking about how they would be able to vaccinate younger people, pregnant women, people who have underlying health conditions like diabetes and asthma.” 

Schuchat also presented new data on the skewed age distribution of the victims as of today. The median age of hospitalized A(H1N1) patients in the United States is 19, she said, and the median age of those who have died from an infection is 37, which she called “quite young for anyone to be dying from an infectious disease.” As to the number of Americans infected, the official count is 27,127 confirmed cases so far, but everyone knows that is a gross underestimate. Even the new, 1 million estimate is probably low, Schuchat said. “I expect it's going to be a bit higher than that when we finish the modeling."