Sebelius Says U.S. Will Donate Part of H1N1 Vaccine Supply to Foreign Nations Before Meeting This Nation’s Demand

By Chris Neefus | October 21, 2009 | 7:45 PM EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Photo by Penny Starr/

( – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Wednesday that one in 10 doses of the swine-flu vaccine purchased by the U.S. will be donated to other nations before the U.S. demand for the vaccine is filled.

Sebelius also told a Senate committee that vaccine production is well behind demand. 

“What we said is once we have 40 million doses (of the vaccine), the donation can start,” Sebelius told “There’s an agreement (of) 10 percent donation that 11 nations have made,” she said. 

HHS has ordered about 250 million doses of the vaccine, so the donation would begin after the U.S. received just 16 percent of its original order. 

Sebelius made the remarks at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the government's preparations for dealing with the H1N1 flu virus outbreak. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also provided testimony at the hearing.

The nation’s top health bureaucrat said the government would still donate to foreign nations part of the stock of vaccine purchased by the U.S. government despite delays in getting the vaccine to American citizens, which she said puts the nation “at the point where demand is ahead of the yield.”

“We will do our best to ramp up the production and continue to push it out the door,” Sebelius said.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) asked Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebilius why the United States should get vaccinations ahead of people in other countries, including those in countries that are producing the vaccine for the United States. ( Starr)

When Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) had his turn to question Sebelus, he raised the issue of whether the United States was "entitled" to the vaccine more than other nations. "Why should we be more entitled, the U.S. be more entitled to that vaccine than some other country in the world?"

Sebelius responded: "Well, I think the balance is difficult. The president clearly has made it clear that his priority is safety and security of the American people, and immediately he also adds that we're a global partner. So we have joined now with 11 nations in terms of 10 percent of the vaccine will be made available to developing countries."

Sebelius said that Congress had “wisely” included funds in the last supplemental appropriations bill to allow HHS to place large orders of the vaccine well in advance. 

“The orders are filled in priority terms, so we are really at the front of the line with some of these (manufacturers) in terms of getting the vaccine as it is produced,” she added. 

When speaking with after the hearing, Sebelius also emphasized the needs of developing countries. 

Asked whether Americans should be prioritized over foreigners with the stockpile of H1N1 vaccine that HHS has ordered using taxpayer funds, Sebelius said: “Well, I think that we are trying to do both things simultaneously--participating is part of our partnership with 11 other countries in terms of donating to developing countries.”

“There’s an agreement (on) 10 percent donation that 11 nations have made, at the same time trying to get the vaccine out to Americans," said Sebelius. "What we said is once we have 40 million doses, the donation can start.”

Referring to the production delay for the vaccine, Sebelius told “We had hoped that that would be a little earlier, but we are working with these 11 nations through the World Health Organization (WHO) to help get the vaccines to countries particularly who can't purchase them. I mean, that’s really the issue is the countries who don’t have the wherewithal to purchase vaccines. We need to make available some of the vaccine that is available to the developed nations.”

When tried to clarify whether the donation would happen once the delay in production was over and all of the U.S. demand had been met, Sebelius said that was not the case. 

“Well, no," she said. "Forty million doses was the initial benchmark and so once that is in this country, then 10 percent of the (doses are donated), and we’ll make up the rest. That’s what the other nations are doing too--England, New Zealand, and Australia and Germany and Spain are all participating in this kind of global effort.”

HHS has ordered about 250 million doses of swine flu vaccine, both in injection and nasal mist forms, which they expect to administer through the spring. The U.S. population is about 307 million.