By Steve Reinberg
WEDNESDAY, July 29 (HealthDay News) -- Women who are pregnant, children six months and older, and health care workers should all get top priority when the H1N1 swine flu vaccine arrives this fall, a U.S. government advisory panel recommended late Wednesday.
Added to that list of first-line recipients are parents and caregivers of infants; non-elderly adults with risky medical problems, and young adults aged 19 to 24, according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The panel met Wednesday in Atlanta to review data for setting swine flu vaccine priorities.
"The committee recommended five target groups for the initial focus for immunization," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a late-afternoon press conference Wednesday. "These are groups that had higher risk of disease, who had greater burden of complications."
Should there be a shortage of vaccine, the panel still recommended that all the groups be targeted, Schuchat added.
"If the supplies are really limited, the committee came up with a 'first-in-line' scheme," Schuchat said. "But our real operating assumption is that we will go forward with the broader group."
Schuchat added that it was likely that people will need two shots of the H1N1 vaccine to be protected.
"We are on track, expecting vaccine doses in the fall," she said. "Exactly how many, exactly when will be tough to pinpoint, but we have a lot of planning assumptions that we are working around."
Clinical trials of candidate H1N1 vaccines are set to begin soon, and the CDC estimates that about 120 million doses will be available this fall.
The groups included in Wednesday's recommendations together total 150 million Americans, according to the Associated Press.
However, health officials don't expect that all those people will get the vaccine. For example, only 15 percent of Americans typically get a seasonal flu shot, according to the AP.
According to the panelists, if ample vaccine does become available, all non-elderly adults should be urged to get a shot.
The advisory panel's recommendations followed findings that H1N1 has appeared to hit pregnant women especially hard.
A study released Tuesday in The Lancet showed that pregnant women who contracted swine flu were four times more likely to be hospitalized than non-pregnant women.
Meanwhile, the elderly, who may have gained some immunity to swine flu from mid-20th century exposures, appear to be less affected than younger adults.
The elderly are advised to get a vaccine for the regular seasonal flu, however, because they remain highly vulnerable to that virus, the panel said.
There's more on H1N1 swine flu at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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