WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama declared the swine flu outbreak a national emergency and empowered his to suspend federal requirements and speed treatment for thousands of infected people.
The declaration that Obama signed late Friday authorized Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to bypass federal rules so health officials can respond more quickly to the outbreak, which has killed more than 1,000 people in the United States.
The goal is to remove bureaucratic roadblocks and make it easier for sick people to seek treatment and medical providers to provide it immediately. That could mean fewer hurdles involving Medicare, Medicaid or health privacy regulations.
"As a nation, we have prepared at all levels of government, and as individuals and communities, taking unprecedented steps to counter the emerging pandemic," Obama wrote in the declaration, which theWhite House announced Saturday.
He said the pandemic keeps evolving, the rates of illness are rising rapidly in many areas and there's a potential "to overburden health care resources."
Because of vaccine production delays, the government has backed off initial, optimistic estimates that as many as 120 million doses would be available by mid-October. As of Wednesday, only 11 million doses had been shipped to Centers for Disease Control and Preventionofficials said., doctor's offices and other providers, according to the
The government now hopes to have about 50 million doses of swine flu vaccine out by mid-November and 150 million in December.
Swine flu is more widespread now than it's ever been. Health authorities say almost 100 children have died from the flu, known as H1N1, and 46 states now have widespread flu activity.
Worldwide, more than 5,000 people have reportedly died from swine flu since it emerged this year and developed into a global epidemic, thesaid Friday. Since most countries have stopped counting individual swine flu cases, the figure is considered an underestimate.
From The Blog of Record:
Something to put the swine flu outbreak in perspective: The regular seasonal flu has killed more than 13,000 people in the U.S. since January, and kills between 250,000 and 500,000 worldwide annually.
Update: The numbers are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A quotation:
The number of influenza-associated (i.e., flu-related) deaths varies from year to year because flu seasons often fluctuate in length and severity. CDC estimated that about 36,000 people died of flu-related causes each year, on average, during the 1990s in the United States. This figure includes people dying from complications of flu. This estimate came from a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medication Association (JAMA), which looked at the 1990-91 through the 1998-99 flu seasons. Statistical modeling was used to estimate how many flu-related deaths occurred among people whose underlying cause of death on their death certificate was listed as a respiratory or circulatory disease. During these years, the number of estimated deaths ranged from 17,000 to 52,000.
In 2009, CDC published additional estimates of flu-related deaths comparing different methods, including the methods used in the 2003 JAMA study. The seasons studied included the 1993-94 through the 2002-03 flu seasons. Results from this study showed that during this time period, 36,171 flu-related deaths occurred per year, on average.