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Health Panel Draws Up Flu Vaccine Priority List

Pregnant women account for about 6 percent of H1N1 deaths, as well as cases serious enough to require hospitalization, Anthony Fiore, a physician and epidemiologist at the CDC, told the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Children younger than 6 months do not produce a strong immune response to flu vaccine and are best protected by keeping them away from the virus, which is spread by coughing, sneezing and touching. Physicians, nurses and paramedics are high on the list because of the work they do.

In outbreaks during the spring, people ages 12 to 18 were hospitalized at twice the rate of people ages 19 to 24 and five times the rate of those 25 to 49. Of the 302 U.S. deaths recorded so far, more than half of those patients had an underlying chronic illness or medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, immune deficiency or morbid obesity.

In the "Asian flu" pandemic of 1957, which many experts believe is a model for the current one, many communities experienced an explosive spread of the virus once schools opened and the weather cooled.

Although CDC experts originally suggested making age 18 the ceiling of the healthy-young-people target group, the committee raised the age to 24 to include college students.

Some of the vaccine will be stored in multi-dose vials containing thimerosal, an antibacterial additive that contains mercury. But there will also be single-dose syringes without thimerosal, a substance that some assert is harmful to children.

Among the many unanswered questions is whether two doses will be necessary to provide full protection, how close in time two shots can be given and how big the dose will be. Vaccination programs may start before the answers are known.

Clinical trials in which the prototype vaccine will be tested in hundreds of children and adults are just beginning. Data on the effectiveness of one shot will be available in mid-September; two shots, in late September.

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