KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Swine Flu ‘Emergency’ Declaration Could Mean Expedited Care

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency as the number of swine flu cases soars and vaccine production doesn't keep up with demand. 

The Los Angeles Times: "President Obama on Saturday declared the swine flu outbreak a national emergency, a procedural step designed to allow healthcare providers to speed treatment and slow the spread of the disease. The action gives Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius temporary authority to grant waivers that would expedite steps such as setting up off-site emergency rooms to treat potential flu victims apart from other patients. Administration officials said the move was not made as a result of any particular development, but as a preemptive measure to ensure that the tools for a quick response were in place."

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 states have reported widespread incidence of the swine flu, also known as H1N1. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in April, there have been more than 20,000 hospitalizations from laboratory-confirmed infections and more than 1,000 deaths" (Hook, 10/25).

ABC News: "Some hospitals have opened drive-thrus and drive-up tent clinics to screen and treat swine flu patients. The idea is to keep infectious people out of regular emergency rooms and away from other sick patients. Hospitals could modify patient rules - for example, requiring them to give less information during a hectic time - to quicken access to treatment, with government approval, under the declaration. It also addresses a financial question for hospitals - reimbursement for treating people at sites not typically approved" (Elliott, 10/25).

The New York Times, on credibility issues: "Earlier this month, the government was forced to announce that only about 28 million doses would be available by the end of this month, about 30 percent below the 40 million it had previously predicted. ... [S]ince the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu occurred in April, federal projections have been consistently and wildly overoptimistic and have had to be ratcheted down several times. As recently as late July, the government was predicting having 160 million doses by this month."

"The reasons for the receding estimates start with the fact that the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, is not growing as fast as expected in the eggs used to produce vaccine. Moreover, some manufacturers did not even know how little they were producing until a vaccine potency test became available around August, federal officials say. Some companies hit bottlenecks in putting the vaccine into vials and syringes" (Pollack and McNeil Jr., 10/25).

NPR: "Compared with seasonal flu, young people and children continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus. In the first 11 days of October, one in five kids had influenza-like illness - fever, cough, fatigue, aches and pains. Since April, there have been 95 confirmed pediatric 2009 H1N1 deaths, and nearly half of them have occurred during September and October, according to the CDC. ... Across the country, dueling concerns persist: Some people worry that they won't have access to the vaccine, while others question the vaccine's safety" (Silberner and Masterson, 10/23).

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