U.S. to have H1N1 vaccine ready by fall - official

Sun May 3, 2009 11:21am EDT

(For full coverage of the flu outbreak, click [nFLU])

WASHINGTON May 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. government expects to have flu vaccines ready for both the new strain of the H1N1 virus and the seasonal flu by autumn, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Sunday.

Sebelius said the government is accelerating production of vaccine against the seasonal flu, which is expected to infect millions of Americans.

"At the same time, we're growing the virus and testing the virus to attack H1N1 and we'll be production-ready when it's time to go," she said on NBC's Meet the Press.

"So we'll be ready for both," Sebelius said. "We're going to be ready for both, come fall."

The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are trying to decide whether to add the new H1N1 strain to the seasonal flu vaccine for the northern hemisphere for delivery starting in September.

Companies already are making the vaccine for the autumn months with a mixture of three influenza viruses that was chosen this year before the new strain broke out.

"What hasn't been determined yet -- and it will be determined by the scientists -- is whether or not vaccine production for H1N1 makes sense, whether we really do want to do full-scale production," Sebelius told Fox television. They have four choices -- leaving the new strain out of the mix altogether, replacing the current H1N1 component with the new H1N1 strain, offering a separate swine H1N1 vaccine or making it a so-called quadrivalent vaccine that includes the new swine H1N1, the circulating seasonal H1N1, the H3N2 component and the influenza B strain.

It takes months to formulate influenza vaccines and they must be made fresh every year with new strains of the constantly mutating virus.

More than a dozen vaccine manufacturers have licenses to produce influenza vaccines. The CDC and WHO make samples of virus available to commercial manufacturers, who then manufacture vaccine.

"It's too early to manufacture anything," Sebelius told Fox.

"What they need to do right now with this H1N1 virus is to test it, is to make sure they've got the right antidote to this particular viral strain, to make sure we have the right dosage, and then make a decision based on the science of what we know whether or not full-scale vaccine production." (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Trott)

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