Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) lauded the efforts of three Cabinet departments in managing the spread of the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, but also expressed concerns about a delay in vaccine production, the capacity of hospitals and health departments to handle a surge in hospital visits, and the availability of intravenous anti-viral medications for those patients who need it.
Lieberman questions Cabinet officers on H1N1 outbreak
Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, held a hearing in which Secretaries Janet Napolitano of the Homeland Security Department, Kathleen Sebelius of HHS and Arne Duncan of the Education Department testified about their respective agency’s individual and coordinated efforts. According to Lieberman, 2,300 people have died in the U.S. from the H1N1 virus in the last few months. And given how rapidly the disease is spreading, Lieberman said he is worried that the virus is getting ahead of the public health system’s capacity to manage it.
Responding to why there will be about 25% fewer doses of the H1N1 vaccine available than was expected for late October, Sebelius said the delay is due to two reasons: antigen—a substance that prompts the generation of antibodies that can cause an immune response—production had been yielding lower results than had been predicted, and there were some problems with new production lines. Both issues have been corrected, Sebelius said.
“A lot of planning has been done, but we’re still too dependent on vaccination production in other countries and old technology,” Sebelius said, adding that HHS is committed to cell-based, rather than egg-based technology. Of the five companies producing the H1N1 vaccine, only one is based in the U.S.
In addressing Lieberman’s other concerns, Sebelius said some hospitals have prepared to treat patients with less severe flu symptoms off site, and a decision for emergency use of intravenous anti-viral medications for certain patients is “imminent.”
What do you think? Post a comment on this article and share your opinion with other readers. Submit your comments to Modern Healthcare Online at [email protected]. Please be sure to include your hometown and state, along with your organization and title.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.