Obama urges Americans to get H1N1 vaccine

CHICAGO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged Americans on Tuesday to get the H1N1 shot when it becomes available as the nation prepares for a second wave of swine flu as autumn approaches in the Northern Hemisphere.

U.S. President Barack Obama walks through the Colonnade to make remarks on preparedness and response efforts surrounding the 2009 H1N1 flu virus in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, September 1, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young

After a meeting with health and homeland security advisers, President Barack Obama said the United States is “making steady process on developing a safe and effective H1N1 flu vaccine and we expect a flu shot program will begin soon.”

“This program will be completely voluntary but it will be strongly recommended,” he said.

Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq made similar comments, saying the nation of 34 million people was well-positioned for another wave of the H1N1 pandemic this fall.

And while a new study in ferrets suggested the virus spreads more quickly and causes more severe disease than seasonal flu, the good news is that it does not appear likely to mutate into a “superbug” as some researchers had feared.

A University of Maryland team studied animals infected with both seasonal and pandemic flu and found no evidence the strains were mixing to form a new, so-called reassortant virus.

“The results suggest that 2009 H1N1 influenza may outcompete seasonal flu virus strains and may be more communicable as well,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Fauci said the study underscored the need for getting vaccinated against swine flu.

Safety tests are being done on the H1N1 vaccine and it is expected to be made available in the second half of October, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those trials will determine whether one or two doses will be needed to provide immunity.

Five companies are making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market -- AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA.

Seasonal flu infects between 5 percent and 20 percent of a given population every year, but 90 percent of severe cases and deaths are among the elderly. It kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people globally.


Because this virus is new, more people are susceptible to it and the World Health Organization has been predicting for months now that 2 billion people will likely become infected.

The White House said in a statement the government’s efforts are aimed at minimizing the impact of H1N1 on the health of the nation and the economy.

The federal government is partnering with Congress, governors, mayors, state and local health departments, the medical community, the private-sector and community-based groups to plan its flu response.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said all primary school-age children will be offered free vaccines for seasonal and H1N1 flu this fall and winter as part of the city’s push to combat swine flu [ID:nN01493158].

In Chicago, where children were 14 times more likely than people over 60 to get swine flu, the city’s health department said on Tuesday it is urging all residents to get a seasonal flu shot.

The city plans to distribute H1N1 vaccine to hospitals, clinics and health care facilities to ensure health workers are vaccinated. It will also make shots available at various sites across the city.

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Edith Honan in New York, and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Canada; Editing by Doina Chiacu