Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Wednesday morning acknowledged a delay in the distribution of H1N1 vaccine but said the program should be back on schedule around December.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wanted to have 40 million doses shipped by the end of October, but will have roughly 28 million to 30 million.
Ms. Napolitano told CNN before testifying on Capitol Hill that the problem was a manufacturing delay, not a shortage.
“There will be a vaccine for everybody who wants it,” she said.
Ms. Napolitano also said every state has a distribution plan. However, the delay has created problems for state and local officials and health-care providers trying to schedule immunization clinics.
Ms. Napolitano will be joined at the Senate hearing by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, and Arne Duncan, secretary of education.
The CDC reports 292 deaths in 28 states related to H1N1 since September. Officials say young people appear especially vulnerable.
The CDC reported Tuesday that 23.6 percent of H1N1 deaths are occurring in people younger than 25 and that roughly 65 percent of the deaths are in people ages 25 to 64. In comparison, 11.6 percent of the deaths since Sept. 1 have occurred in seniors 65 and older.
Roughly 90 percent of the deaths related to seasonal flu are in people 65 and older, according to the agency.
Mrs. Napolitano told members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs the surge in H1N1 cases this fall is “beyond what we had planned for.”
She also said federal officials make biweekly calls to local homeland security offices and the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to work on plans to “keep the business of the country running” should H1N1 reach pandemic or epidemic proportions.
Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Liberman, Connecticut independent, said his two biggest concerns are availability of the vaccine and hospitals becoming overwhelmed with H1N1 patients.
“The virus may be getting ahead of our ability to respond to it,” he said.
Mrs. Napolitano and Mrs. Sebelius said a Texas hospital and several others across the U.S. have built outdoor triage tents for suspected H1N1 patients.
“Rather than have patients being sick around the emergency room, it would be wiser to have them outside,” Mrs. Sebelius said.
She also said the federal government has roughly 6,500 commissioned corpsmen in Washington, D.C., and four other sites across the country who will redirect resources if hospitals reach capacity.
Mrs. Sebelius acknowledged the need to look at out how pharmaceutical companies develop vaccines.
“Everybody is trying to get a much faster growing technique,” she said.