The Food and Drug Administration's advisory committee is recommending including pandemic H1N1 into next flu season's vaccine.
Committee members are agreeing that it's still somewhat early in the year to predict what may happen with the pandemic strain, but they agreed that pandemic H1N1's predominance, unpredictability and the relative absence of traditional virus strains warranted the need for the pandemic strain's inclusion into next season's vaccine.
The inclusion of the H1N1 pandemic virus in the influenza vaccine does not necessarily signal that the pandemic is over. Pandemic H1N1 is still expected to be a significant threat to people as we go into next season's fall and winter periods. Young people, especially those with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women continue to be at higher risk of infection and viral pneumonia from the H1N1 virus.
The World Health Organization's emergency committee of influenza experts will meet soon to evaluate whether the world is moving out of the pandemic. We are at the post peak period of the pandemic with the month of February traditionally being a peak month. This means we continue to be in a pandemic, however the virus is declining and flu infection rates are getting closer to normal. Traditional flu season can last into the spring. Last year pandemic H1N1 continued through the summer months.
The other recommended vaccine strains to be included in next season's vaccine are H3N2 -- which like H1N1 is a type of influenza A -- and influenza B. National health authorities will have to decide whether to combine the three strains into a single "trivalent" shot, offer three separate vaccines, or use a separate H1N1 shot and combine the other two in one shot.
Annually in the United States approximately 1.5 million to 6 million people get the flu. Of those infected, about 220,000 will have to be hospitalized and 36,000 will die. It is estimated that approximately 200 million people have received the H1N1 pandemic vaccine so far.
The current seasonal flu vaccine is still recommended for everyone age 6 months to 18 years of age and 65 years of age and older, and for people of any age in flu risk groups. This also is the recommendation for the current H1N1 vaccine. TriCare beneficiaries can receive the vaccines at the Hill clinic and Department of Defense employees can receive the vaccines at the Occupational Medicine Clinic, Building 249.
The 75th Medical Group immunizations clinic continues to offer vaccination Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m., and Wednesday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
The OMS clinic also is offering H1N1 vaccination to civilian federal employees. For more information call (801) 777-1159.