H1N1 declining, but doctors encouraged to keep vaccinating

Some viral mutation has occurred, but health experts on an HHS Webcast told physicians they expect the vaccine to protect against the new flu strains.

By Christine S. Moyer — Posted Dec. 30, 2009

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As cases of influenza A(H1N1) virus steadily decline in the United States, health experts are encouraging physicians to continue vaccinating patients to help prevent a third wave of the epidemic, following waves in the spring and the fall.

"Although the virus is on the downswing now, I don't think any of us think it's going to go away," said Nicole Lurie, MD, MSPH, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Dept. of Health and Human Services. She spoke as a participant in the agency's H1N1 Webcast on Dec. 16.

"The question is really whether it's going to come back. And if it comes back, [with] how much of a vengeance?" she asked.

As of Dec. 16, H1N1 was widespread in 14 states, down from 25 states two weeks earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The H1N1 vaccine supply also has improved since earlier this month, with 82.6 million doses shipped to the states as of Dec. 15, up from 63.9 million by Dec. 7.

Vaccine manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis recalled about 800,000 doses of its pediatric H1N1 vaccine Dec. 15 because the potency was "slightly" below the specified range, said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Children who received these doses do not need to be revaccinated.

Some of the H1N1 virus strains have mutated, Dr. Schuchat said. But the H1N1 vaccine is still expected to offer protection, Dr. Lurie said.

Next year's seasonal flu vaccine could include the H1N1 strain, which could eliminate the need for two separate influenza immunizations, Dr. Schuchat said.

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