Pressure is on H1N1 vaccine manufacturers, as lawmakers are asking why the country will receive only 25 percent of the vaccine doses it was expected to get by the end of October.

To date, there have been more than 5,000 cases of the flu reported and more than 800 people have died from H1N1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been a total of 86 reported pediatric deaths from the H1N1 influenza virus, and about half of the deaths in children have occurred between the ages of 12 and 17, the CDC says.

“These are very sobering statistics. Unfortunately, they are likely to increase,” Dr. Anne Schuchat said in an H1N1 national media briefing last week.

In a special hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said, “It’s moved with alarming speed and took an exceptionally high toll at a time of year when we don’t encounter a high number of flu cases. I’m worried the virus is getting ahead of the public health system’s ability to control it.”

In a statement, Sen. Robert C. Byrd D-W.Va., said it is essential that the public does not panic.

“While I believe it is imperative that we do all we can to protect our most vulnerable against the H1N1 virus, we must ensure that the vaccine that is being sent to clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices across the country, and which is going to be put into the mouths and arms of millions of Americans, has been produced safely,” Byrd told The Register-Herald Wednesday.

“I am just as concerned about the shortage of the seasonal flu vaccine, which could also have significant health repercussions throughout the country if we continue to fall short in the delivery of the vaccine to health care providers. But this must be done in a safe and effective manner to ensure the health and safety of all those who receive these vaccinations.”

The CDC says 46,500 doses of the H1N1 vaccine had been shipped to West Virginia as of Oct. 14.

In Raleigh County, the Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department will offer its first H1N1 vaccine to children, pregnant women, health care and emergency service workers and high-risk patients from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We have about 2,500 doses,” said Candance Hurd, director of nursing at the health department.

“We’re working our way through the priority groups. The vaccine will be coming on a weekly basis.”

While children, pregnant women, health care workers and first responders and those at high risk will start getting vaccinated in Beckley Saturday, the rest of the population will have to wait.

“It’s very difficult to predict exactly how many doses we’ll have in the weeks ahead. ... Some of the manufacturers have let us know that the production of the vaccine is likely to be a bit delayed, in terms of the number of doses they were expecting to have out in future weeks,” Schuchat said.

“We are not cutting any corners in the safety of the production of this vaccine or the testing and oversight of the vaccine, and it’s very important to us that this process be done carefully and safely.

“We wish that we had more vaccine, and there is more vaccine coming out every day, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to make those estimates that we had projected for the end of this month.”

Schuchat says the public needs to be aware of H1N1 and take all precautionary measures to protect themselves.

“As a doctor and a public health expert, and someone who’s been hearing a lot about the very severe illnesses, I take this virus very seriously. Based on everything that I know, the vaccine is the best protection against this virus,” Schuchat added.

The Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department says parents should get their children vaccinated immediately. There is no charge for the H1N1 vaccine it administers.

“Do not wait for it to be offered in the schools,” Hurd said.

“We want to highly encourage parents of school-age children to bring their children into the health department for the clinic. By having a parent present, we can get a good medical history and they can also comfort their child.”

Nearly all of the influenza viruses identified this year are H1N1 influenza A viruses, the CDC says.

The CDC reports the virus is “similar” to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and remains “susceptible to the anti-viral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir with rare exception.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

— E-mail: jayres@register-herald.com

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