HEALTH

CDC director: About 16% of Americans have been sick with H1N1 this year

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA One-in-6 Americans have been sick with the novel H1N1 virus so far this year, Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported during a news conference Thursday.

“We estimate there have been nearly 50 million cases, mostly in younger adults and children,” he said.  

That includes approximately 200,000 hospitalizations so far this year, which correlates with the number of hospitalizations typical for the seasonal flu. However, there have been almost 10,000 deaths, including 1,100 children and 7,500 young adults, Frieden said. “That’s much higher than in a usual flu season,” he said. So as we’ve seen for months this is a flu that is much harder on younger people and fortunately has largely spared the elderly until now.”

And though the number of H1N1 cases is expected to continue to decline this week, Frieden cautioned against complacency, commenting that the typical flu season extends into May and noting that the vast majority of Americans — 5-in-6 — have not become sick with H1N1, suggesting there is still a significant number of people who could become ill.

While the number of H1N1 cases decline, the amount of H1N1 influenza vaccine available continues to increase — approximately 85 million doses have been delivered to the CDC to date.

“Many states have increased the eligibility, having met the demand in the five priority groups to the general population and that’s consistent with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices,” Frieden said. “This is still a good window of opportunity to be vaccinated. I can certainly understand that many people might [ask], ‘Well there’s been so much disease and it’s going down so much, why get vaccinated now?’ But the fact is we don’t know what the future will hold.”

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Tricare expands vaccination coverage to pharmacies, clinics

BY Michael Johnsen

FALLS CHURCH, Va. The Department of Defense on Thursday issued an interim final rule through the Federal Register designating pharmacies as providers for H1N1, seasonal flu and pneumonia vaccinations under its Tricare program. The policy change, effective immediately and expected to be fully implemented later this month, brings the program in line with other insurers that have covered pharmacist-administered vaccinations.

“NCPA strongly supports the Pentagon’s decision to cover the provision of these critical vaccines at community pharmacies,” stated Bruce Roberts, EVP and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association. “The 9.5 million Tricare-eligible patients gain a convenient new vaccination option,” he said. “[And] taxpayers and plan administrators will save money when vaccines are administered at pharmacies instead of costlier doctors’ offices or hospitals.”

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores also commended the decision, stating that pharmacies “[are] uniquely positioned to offer such services for patients as vaccinations.”

“With the flu season upon us, it is important to help patients stay as healthy as possible. And for Tricare patients, this ruling provides them the ability to access their neighborhood pharmacy to receive these vaccinations,” said NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson.

Tricare also is seeking comments on additional vaccines that should be covered through community pharmacies.

Tricare also recently added local convenient care clinics as network providers, meaning Tricare covered can also visit their local Take Care Health or MinuteClinic for influenza vaccines, the military payor announced last month.

Along with getting their flu shots at local military treatment facilities and from their primary care manager, nonactive duty Tricare Prime beneficiaries in the North and South regions can now receive flu vaccinations at local convenient care clinics. Tricare Standard or Extra beneficiaries who are not Medicare-eligible can also take advantage of the convenient care clinics, now that Tricare has waived cost shares for immunizations received from network providers.

“Convenient care clinics may be the perfect option for busy families to take advantage of this important preventive care,” Tricare stated in a press release.

In the North Region, Health Net has contracted with convenient care clinics at all MinuteClinics in CVS pharmacies; Take Care Clinics in Walgreens; and Little Clinics in Kroger food stores. In the South Region, Humana Military has limited service clinics at MinuteClinics in CVS pharmacies.

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HHS discusses initiatives prompted by President Obama’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday described how the agency is following through on President Barack Obama’s three principles for promoting a transparent and open government — transparency, participation and collaboration — citing the YouTube PSA contest for promoting the H1N1 vaccine as one example. Other examples included information streaming of HHS biomedical research innovation and IdeaLab, an Web-based peer-to-peer program that serves as a clearinghouse for collaborative networking for employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These examples illustrate our commitment to the President’s vision of promoting accountability, collaboration and public engagement,” stated HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “By working together in a transparent manner, we have developed programs that are making real contributions to creating and adopting impactful solutions that protect and improve people’s health.”

The “YouTube Know What to Do About the Flu and Prevention PSA Contest” reached populations most vulnerable to the H1N1 flu virus — young teens and adults — to take proactive actions such as washing your hands and getting a flu shot. The PSA contest provided a venue to encourage families and students to get involved and reached a large audience with a creative outlet and humor, on a serious subject. More than 250 videos were submitted for review and the winning PSA was featured on national television. 

“Our PSA Contest tapped the creativity and energy that thrives on YouTube,” stated acting assistant secretary for public affairs Jenny Backus. “We engaged people and they in turn engaged each other.  Our important messages about how to prevent the flu reached a new audience of people at increased risk from the H1N1 virus.”

These initiatives are in direct response to the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government the President issued on Jan. 21.

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