CDC still urges H1N1 vaccination efforts despite incidence drop

ATLANTA The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged the public and healthcare professionals not to become complacent with regard to H1N1 vaccinations. With more than 136 million H1N1 vaccine doses available for ordering, the CDC advised that if a person hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, now would be a good time to do so.

The word of caution comes as the incidence of flu — still predominated by the H1N1 virus — has dropped significantly in the past month. Only four states — Deleware, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia — are still reporting widespread influenza-like illness, compared with more than 40 states reporting widespread ILI a little more than a month ago.

Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, suggested that history may have a chance to repeat itself if the public does not remain vigilant. During the 1957 pandemic, incidence dropped significantly over the December-January period, but picked up that spring with a higher mortality rate.

“This is really a reminder of why we are saying that we need to remain vigilant,” Schuchat said. “This is why my colleagues and I in public health are encouraging people to be vaccinated, especially those who are at risk of complications.  None of us can predict what’s going to happen. … We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next several weeks or months.”

In 1957, following that drop in incidence, health officials “essentially gave the all-clear whistle,” Schuchat said. “They had vaccine, but they didn’t encourage its use and yet they did go on to see that increase in mortality. … As long as this virus is circulating, it has the potential to cause illness.”

And though incidence of flu is currently declining, incidence is still higher than is normal for this time of year, and the traditional flu season has yet to materialize. “All the virus that we’re seeing right now is the H1N1 virus,” Schuchat said. ”We haven’t yet seen the emergence of seasonal flu strains in any numbers at all.”