Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr. announced yesterday that he has decided against an immediate national "crash program" to immunize the populace against Russian flu.
Instead, Califano told a press conference, HEW will seek $10 million to develop, and distribute to the states for use next fall, a single new vaccine effective against Russian, Hong Kong, A/Victoria and A/Texas flu. In addition, Califano said, he will seek $15 million to 20 million in fiscal 1979 and 1980 to help the states set up permanent immunization programs for the first time.
Use of the new vaccine under the state programs will be targeted on "high risk" groups -- persons under 25 with chronic medical conditions such as bronchitis, heart disease, diabetes (4.5 million people); persons 25-64 with similar conditions (14.6 million) and persons 63 and older (22.9 million).
Califano said the program would provide enough shots to inoculate 40 per cent of those in "high-risk" groups during the first two years of the program, and up to 70 per cent by 1981.
HEW said the new program would save 1,200 lives in its first year if the inoculation rate reached 20 per cent that year.
Califano's recommendations against a crash national program -- such as the Ford administration tried in 1976 against swine fl -- were based on recommendations of a Jan. 30 HEW conference. The $135 million national swine-flu program, an attempt to inoculate the entire U.S. population, was called off after 40 million immunizations when cases of paralysis began cropping up and liability for the paralysis became a legal issue.
Califano said that to meet the liability problem for the new program, HEW would provide the states with a model "informed consent" form under which each person to be inoculated would be given detailed information on benefits and risks, a device already used in immunization programs for childhood diseases.
The Jan. 30 conference concluded that instead of shooting for all Americans on a crash basis now, the Russian flu immunization effort should be focused on the highest-risk groups and made part of a new permanent system of state anti-flu programs.
Califano said the federal funds available to the states would cover two-thirds of the state costsin the first two years of the program and 50 per cent after that.
The Jan. 30 flu conference concluded, Califano said, that the Russian flu would "almost certainly reappear" in the 1978-79 flu season: that the greatest risk is to elderly persons and chronically ill persons, especially those under 25; that 30 million doses of a new vaccine effective against Russian and three other types of flu could be ready by late August, and that the risk of death from flu if you aren't immunized is 400 times the risk of dying of complications from vaccinations.