As the swine flu outbreak strikes the U.S. early and hard, health officials note a worrisome number of child deaths, and warn that supplies of vaccine will remain scarce for at least the next couple of weeks.
Delays in producing the vaccine mean 28 million to 30 million doses, at most, will be divided around the country by the end of the month, not the 40 million-plus that states had been expecting. The new count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention means anxiously awaited flu-shot clinics in some parts of the U.S. may have to be postponed.
It also delays efforts to blunt increasing infections. Overall, the 2009 H1N1 flu is has caused disease in 41 states, and about 6 percent of all doctor visits are for flu-like illness — levels not normally seen until much later in the fall. Federal health officials said Friday 11 more children have died in the past week because of the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about half of the child deaths since September have been among teenagers, and for the country overall, deaths from pneumonia and flu-like illnesses have passed what CDC considers an epidemic level. Eighty-six children have died of swine flu in the U.S. since it burst on the scene last spring — 43 of those deaths have been reported in September and early October alone.
As of last week Wednesday, states had ordered 8 million of the 11.4 million doses of swine flu vaccine the government has ready to ship. Just over half of the vaccine now available is in shot form and the rest as a nasal spray. First in line for scarce H1N1 vaccine are supposed to be pregnant women, anyone age 6 months to 24 years, health care workers and people under 65 with flu-risky conditions.