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CDC Prioritizes H1N1 Vaccinations For Pregnant Women

August 21, 2017

When the H1N1 flu vaccine becomes available in the fall, pregnant women should be among the first groups vaccinated because of their high risk for serious complications, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert panel said on Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. The 15-member committee advises CDC on vaccine policy. The priority list also includes caretakers of infants, health care workers, children and young adults, and older people with chronic conditions. Anthony Fiore, a physician and epidemiologist at CDC, told the committee that about 6% of H1N1 deaths and hospitalizations are among pregnant women (Brown, Washington Post, 7/30).

According to a CDC study published online Wednesday in the journal Lancet, pregnant women who contract the H1N1 virus -- also known as "swine flu" -- are at least four times more likely to be hospitalized than other people with the virus, the AP/Google reports. The study analyzed the first 34 U.S. cases, including six deaths, in pregnant women from April to mid-June of 2009. Although it is not clear if pregnant women are more susceptible to the virus, they have a higher risk of complications after becoming infected. The study's authors said pregnant women suspected of having H1N1 should be administered Tamiflu as soon as possible, prior to the completion of diagnostic testing. CDC's Denise Jamieson, the lead author of the study, said that Tamiflu appears relatively safe for pregnant women, despite limited safety data on its use in that population.

Most pregnant women who contract H1N1 have mild flu symptoms like a cough or fever, according to the World Health Organization. Jamieson said that CDC does not recommend specific precautions for pregnant women but that doctors should act quickly -- preferably within 48 hours -- if a pregnant woman shows symptoms. She added that the pregnant women who died were basically healthy, and nearly all had viral pneumonia before experiencing acute respiratory problems prior to their death (Cheng, AP/Google, 7/29).

CDC's priority groups include about 159 million people out of a total U.S. population of more than 300 million, the Chicago Tribune reports. The agency expects to have about 120 million doses of the vaccine by the end of October. Officials are confident there will be enough for their target groups because only 20% to 50% of those recommended to receive seasonal flu vaccines seek them out. However, if supplies of the vaccine are unexpectedly restricted, the panel recommended that a smaller group -- about 41 million of the most susceptible to adverse side effects from infection or most likely to spread the virus -- be given priority for the vaccine. This smaller group also includes pregnant women (Maugh, Chicago Tribune, 7/30).

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