President Obama Saturday declared the H1N1 flu a national emergency, clearing the way for legal waivers to allow hospitals and doctors offices to better handle a surge of new patients.
The proclamation will grant Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius the power to authorize the waivers as individual medical facilities request them, officials said.
It says that Obama does “hereby find and proclaim that, given that the rapid increase in illness across the Nation may overburden health care resources and that the temporary waiver of certain standard Federal requirements may be warranted in order to enable U.S. health care facilities to implement emergency operations plans, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the United States constitutes a national emergency.”
White House officials downplayed the dramatic-sounding language, saying the president’s action was not prompted by a new assessment of the dangers posed to the public by the flu.
Instead, officials said the action provides greater flexibility for hospitals which may suddenly find themselves confronted with a surge of new patients as the virus sweeps through their communities.
“The H1N1 is moving rapidly, as expected. By the time regions or healthcare systems recognize they are becoming overburdened, they need to implement disaster plans quickly,” White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said Saturday.
The waivers authorized by the president’s actions still require individual requests by the hospitals, Cherlin said. …
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday that the flu was spreading widely in at least 46 states and had already hospitalized at least 20,000 Americans. More than 1,000 confirmed deaths have occurred due to the virus and more than 2,400 additional deaths that were likely associated with it, officials said.
Health authorities are especially concerned about pregnant women, young adults and children. At least 95 children have already died from the virus, far more than usually die during an entire typical flu season.
Although officials had hoped at least 40 million doses of vaccine would be available by this time, production problems have delayed the federal government’s massive inoculation campaign. Only about 16 million doses have become available so far.
Parents infuriated over wait for swine flu vaccine
When pediatrician Tommy Schechtman ran a weekend swine flu vaccination clinic recently, he was forced to deliver bad news to many parents.
Children who got the seasonal flu nasal mist at schools and in his office had to wait another 28 days before taking the swine flu nasal vaccine, all he had at the time.
The children had been vaccinated against a flu strain that was not circulating, rendering them unable to be vaccinated against the strain that actually threatened them.
Some parents screamed at him.
“‘You gave my child the seasonal flu mist and now my child is not eligible to get H1N1?’” Schechtman said. “They are upset.” …
health workers are distributing 30,000 doses of the triple-strain seasonal vaccine at 107 public elementary schools, paid for with the $206,000 federal grant. It has been a major undertaking, said Dr. Cathy Burns, health services specialist for Palm Beach County schools. Changing the plan now would be nearly impossible.
“The logistics of all of this takes weeks and weeks of planning,” Burns said.
There were consent forms that had to be written, then translated into Spanish, Creole and Portuguese. The forms had to be duplicated, distributed, checked and entered into computerized records. Contracts had to be negotiated and signed. School schedules had to be checked and arranged.
Then on vaccination day at each school, dozens of children must be pulled from class, interviewed for contraindications such as asthma or egg allergies, then vaccinated and observed for side effects, under the watchful eyes of assistant principals and nurses.
Thirty-eight elementary schools have given the seasonal vaccine since Oct. 5. By Thanksgiving, it will be given at an additional 69 schools. … – pbp