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U.S. Health Officials Testify Before Senate Committee About H1N1 Vaccine Campaign

U.S. health officials defended their handling of the country’s H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine campaign Tuesday “against criticism that their plan to protect Americans was confusing and over-optimistic,” Reuters reports (Fox, 11/17).

At a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, HHS and CDC representatives argued “that the roots of the [vaccine] shortage were beyond their control and that they had made the right decisions on matters they could affect” like “not to put immune-boosting adjuvants in the vaccine even though that could have quadrupled the number of doses available now” as well as leaving “decisions about allocating vaccine up to local health departments instead of trying to micromanage them from Atlanta or Washington,” the New York Times reports (McNeil, 11/17).

During the hearing, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) questioned why the federal government had not taken action to ensure “the 42 million Americans regarded as most at risk –pregnant women, caregivers of infants, health care workers, children age six months to four years and high-risk children under 18” received the vaccine first when it became clear there were vaccine shortages, CQ HealthBeat reports. Anne Schuchat, of the CDC, “said survey data shows that priority groups are being reached” (Norman, 11/17).

In related news, IRIN examines the most recent statistics on the impact of H1N1 in the Eastern Mediterranean region, as documented by the WHO: Iran leads the region in the number of deaths from H1N1; Syria leads the region in its deaths-to-cases ratio; Kuwait leads in the highest number of cases (11/18).

In a second story, IRIN examines the recent decision by the Afghan government to reopen the all schools to children from November 23 to December 12 to allow children to take exams, following a shut-down to stop the spread of H1N1. Universities, however, will remain closed through the end of the year. The article details preparations underway to prevent the spread of H1N1 upon the students return to the classroom (11/18).