By Jennifer Corbett Dooren of Dow Jones Newswires from the Wall Street Journal
July 10, 2009 -- WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--Top U.S. government officials are planning an H1N1 influenza vaccination campaign aimed at school-age children that could start in October.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said there's a possibility that vaccinations could be offered at schools and day-care centers because the new H1N1 virus has so far affected more children than older adults.
Speaking at an influenza summit being held at the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden said there's been a "striking difference" between the H1N1 flu and the seasonal flu, with the new virus disproportionately affecting children and young adults rather than adults age 65 and older as is typically the case with seasonal flu.
Any H1N1 influenza vaccines would be administered separately from seasonal influenza vaccines because production is almost complete for seasonal vaccines.
Vaccine makers, which include Sanofi-Aventis (SNY), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Novartis (NVS), are currently developing H1N1 influenza vaccine pilot lots that would be used for tests that could start next month. The Food and Drug Administration is planning a meeting later this month to discuss the clinical trials.
The plan to start a school-based vaccination campaign depends on whether vaccine makers will be able to successfully manufacturer enough H1N1 influenza vaccine.
Anthony Fauci, the director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which would oversee the clinical trials, said such trials will determine whether proposed vaccines are safe and the proper dosage.
He said the government will initially focus on vaccines that are made with the traditional chicken-egg manufacturing system that's used for seasonal influenza vaccines.
Assuming clinical trials go as planned, the first batches of H1N1 vaccine would be available in mid-October.
Sebelius said the U.S. would likely purchase much of the vaccine that would then be funneled into vaccine programs aimed at children, health-care workers and pregnant women.
Last week the CDC said it believes at least 1 million people have had the H1N1 flu virus, which is being caused by a new type of H1N1 virus first discovered in April.
Frieden said almost all flu that's being seen in the U.S. is being caused by the H1N1 flu virus. Health officials are concerned the virus could become more virulent when the seasonal influenza season starts this autumn. However, surveillance in the Southern Hemisphere is so far showing that the virus is staying fairly stable and is circulating along side other viruses that are causing seasonal flu illnesses.