KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

H1N1 Overwhelms Hospitals; Sebelius Addresses Flu Vaccine Shortage

Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed "as waves of flu patients arrive at their doors, doubling their emergency room volume," USA Today reports. "Just as significant is the effect on intensive care units: A relatively small number of flu patients are requiring intensive care, but some are so ill they will need round-the-clock care for weeks." Doctors are expecting "the number of patients needing hospitalization and intensive care to rise," perhaps eventually forcing "some hospitals to cancel services such as elective surgery, they say."

The White House declared a national emergency on Saturday, which "was designed to give hospitals the flexibility to move patients to satellite facilities if they are overwhelmed in dealing with an outbreak that is now widespread in 46 states and afflicting millions of people, says Reid Cherlin, an administration spokesman" (Sternberg, 10/26).

Meanwhile, "Administration officials sought Monday to explain why so much less H1N1 flu vaccine is available than had been promised, blaming the manufacturers and the vagaries of science for nationwide shortages," The Washington Post reports. "Public anxiety has surged as the swine flu sweeps across the country and doctors and clinics are forced to turn away many people." The Obama Administration said in July that 80 to 120 million doses would be produced by mid-October, but "only about 16.5 million doses have become available so far."

"Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in television interviews Monday that officials had been 'relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers, and as soon as we got numbers we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy'" (Shear and Stein, 10/27). 

U.S. News & World Report/HealthDay News: "Sebelius said that eventually there will be enough supplies 'for everyone.' 'We do have a vaccine that works,' she said" (Reinberg, 10/26).

The Associated Press/ABC News: "Sebelius said she could not predict how widespread the virus will be. Roughly a thousand people have died from it in the United States. But she also said officials do not believe there is any cause to close down schools and cease other daily activities. ... Dr. Anne Schuchat, who heads the Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it's hard to predict how long the H1N1 wave will continue, so even getting vaccinated a few months from now - when vaccine supplies are more plentiful - won't be too late" (10/27).

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