US immunization experts have called an emergency meeting to map out a plan for vaccinating Americans against swine flu when influenza season returns in the coming months, a health official said Friday.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will hold an "emergency or off-cycle meeting" on swine flu on July 29, said Anne Shuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"They will be deliberating on recommendations for which populations should be targeted for vaccination with the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and they will also be deliberating on whether prioritization, or tiering, of potentially limited vaccine supply would be appropriate," Schuchat told reporters.
Pharmaceutical companies around the world are in the early stages of developing a vaccine against the (A)H1N1 flu virus, and concern has been raised that the vaccine will not be ready or available in sufficient quantities for a mass immunization campaign when the northern hemisphere's flu season returns with the cooler autumn weather.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week at a flu summit held just outside Washington that clinical trials on a first candidate vaccine against swine flu were expected to begin next month.
The tests would take "a couple of months" to determine whether the vaccine is safe and effective and what the appropriated dosage should be, Fauci said.
On Wednesday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Margaret Chan warned that a vaccine to combat the swine flu pandemic would not be readily available for several months.
The CDC said 263 people have died of swine flu in the United States and more than 40,000 infections with the virus have been confirmed.
US officials believe around a million people have already had swine flu in the United States, but went under the radar because the virus caused only mild infection and they did not seek medical care.