Swine flu shows need for health reform, says Sebelius

While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated this week that as many as 1 million Americans may have contracted the H1N1 virus, it doesn’t seem to be any more dangerous than the seasonal flu, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters on a teleconference call, July 10.

Despite new information suggesting the H1N1 virus hasn’t mutated into a more dangerous strain, Sebelius said, the US government remains cautious about the disease and will probably move forward with vaccination programs. ‘We’re still watching it transmit very easily and rapidly,’ the Secretary pointed out. ‘It is targeting a younger population, the average age is about 15.’

According to official health care statistics, 33,000 people in the United States have had confirmed and tested cases of H1N1 flu, and 170 deaths have been reported since the outbreak began earlier this year. In its report, the CDC estimated that the vast majority of the 1 million people it believes contracted the disease simply did not report it or visit a doctor for it.

‘At least to date, it appears that while a lot of people may get the H1N1 virus, it doesn’t appear to be significantly more lethal than seasonal flu is,’ Sebelius explained.

Because of the rapid spread and the large number of cases, however, serious public health concerns about the virus remain. The Obama administration announced this week that new resources authorized by Congress last month are now available to state and local governments to bolster vaccination and public health programs.

Sebelius also noted that a final decision about the national vaccination program hasn’t been announced yet, but she expects it will go through. Plans for a likely October vaccination program are in the works. Scientists at various federal agencies will soon make their recommendations about whether the program is needed or not.

Because the virus has targeted young people, the vaccination program will be primarily located in schools and daycare centers. Community health centers and public health facilities should also have a supply of prescription antiviral drugs like Tamiflu to match the need in their areas. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to push out stockpiles of antivirals, the Secretary explained.

If a vaccination program for this fall is determined to be necessary, it will be a public program, the Sebelius added. ‘Unlike a lot of medical services provided in this country right now, it will not depend on somebody having private insurance in order to access the vaccination and hopefully the antiviral medication.’

Sebelius also noted that H1N1 pandemic reveals how ‘erratic’ health care in this country is, a problem the Obama administration is trying to address with comprehensive health reform.

In addition to these steps, HHS is sponsoring a video contest for people to make and submit their YouTube videos. Those videos should be ‘public service announcements’ about how to prevent exposure to the disease or to seek help. People interested in that contest should check out . The winning video maker will win $2,500 and the video will be used nationally.

Flu.gov also provides extensive information and updates about H1N1 from federal agencies.