A few days into the holiday break, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recalled 800,000 doses of H1N1 flu vaccine that had been distributed throughout the nation, according to a Yolo County Health Department press release.
The vaccines, which were designed for children aged between six and 35 months old, were not recalled for safety reasons – they failed to meet potency standards.
Three hundred doses made their way to Yolo County before officials received the order to halt use. It is not known exactly how many vaccines were sent to clinics and hospitals in Davis.
Health officer and director Dr. Joseph Iser of the Yolo County Health Department said the recall should not alarm individuals looking to get vaccinated. The recalled vaccines were completely safe, and their efficacy had just atrophied over time, he said.
“There’s a standardized amount of vaccine [in a shot] – let’s say antigen – and in fact when [these H1N1 vaccines] were released, they had that. But it degraded over time,” Iser said.
The press release maintained that children who had received the recalled H1N1 flu shots of lesser potency should continue to get their second shot to complete the vaccination process.
Children under the age of 10 must be vaccinated twice to ensure the proper development of antibodies that protect against the H1N1 virus. For example, an individual is given three Hepatitis B vaccines to ensure the vaccine has adequately stimulated the development of disease-fighting antibodies.
“Approximately a third of the people will be protected after one [shot],” Iser said. “Approximately two-thirds will be protected after two. And everyone should be protected after three. Some people are protected after one because their immune systems react more effectively to produce antibodies.”
Doses of the recalled vaccine that had not been given to patients were transferred to separate refrigerators at the Health Department until further instruction in order to avoid confusion between the recalled and authorized vaccines. Dr. Iser and his associates await further instruction from the state before sending back the vaccines.
H1N1 flu vaccines had been recalled twice more in the past under similar circumstances.
Major retailers like Rite Aid and Safeway had not received any vaccines. The recalled doses were sent exclusively to doctors, hospitals and clinics.
A CDC study that examined the period of time from Apr. 2009 to Nov. 14, 2009 estimated that the H1N1 flu virus had caused approximately 10,000 deaths and 213,000 hospitalizations in the United States. By contrast, regular seasonal influenza – referred to colloquially as “the flu” – kills about 36,000 people per year, according to the CDC website.
Data gathered by the CDC on regular seasonal influenza compared with H1N1 flu data demonstrates the H1N1 virus’s propensity to severely affect people under the age of 65. Ninety percent of deaths caused by the everyday seasonal flu are found in senior citizens at or above that age. With the H1N1 flu however, deaths occur much more commonly in people between the ages of 18 and 64.
Taking note of the broader demographic affected by “swine flu,” the CDC has stressed the importance of continuing the H1N1 vaccination program.
“One of the reasons we’ve had fewer deaths [is] the nation as a whole has had a pretty good response to it in that lots of people have received the vaccine and that a lot of people have been following our advice,” Iser said.
First-year student Imran Masood said he was not fortunate enough to have access to H1N1 flu vaccines when he contracted swine flu during fall quarter 2009. He wished he had received a vaccine to expedite his recovery.
“I had never had any sickness like it before,” Masood said. “I did not receive the vaccine. I kind of wish I had now. I got it pretty early in the school year, so the clinic didn’t have the vaccines yet.”
The enigmatic strain of influenza has not been as severe as medical experts once speculated.
“All of the predictions that we got were that we’d have more deaths due to H1N1.” Iser said. “It has been milder than what we thought it would be.”
YARA ELMJOUIE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.