Senior Citizens Left Off Government’s Swine-Flu Vaccination Priority List

By Susan Jones | July 31, 2009 | 10:08 AM EDT

A hospital waiting room in the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday, July 29, 2009. Argentina has the world's second-highest swine flu death toll after the U.S. Experts in the Northern Hemisphere are watching closely to see how it evolves in the southern winter. (AP Photo/Pablo Barrera)

( - Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to minimize suffering and death from influenza, the Health and Human Services Department says on its Web site.
But some senior citizens complain they’ve been left off the list of people who will be first in line to get the swine flu vaccination, when it is ready. One reader suggested the omission is in line with the Obama’s administration’s plan to "minimize" health care for the elderly, as the reader put it.
On its Web page, HHS says the government is working to produce enough vaccine for the entire population, but there will be shortages when a vaccine first becomes available – probably in mid-October.
That means the “limited supply” will have to be “prioritized for distribution and administration.”
On July 29, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – a group that advises the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- recommended that novel H1N1 flu vaccine be made available first to the following five groups:
-- Pregnant women
-- Health care workers and emergency medical responders
-- People caring for infants under 6 months of age
-- Children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years
-- People aged 25 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions (e.g. asthma, diabetes)
Nothing is said about people over the age of 64, with or without underlying medical conditions.
That irked one reader, who expressed concern that the Obama administration – in both its health care plan and vaccination priorities – is putting seniors last:
Reading the (health care overhaul) bill, it is clear what is being purposed concerning seniors, make them comfortable and minimize their care and let them die with dignity. When asked, the President and others explain it away that it will not be like that but the facts speak for themselves.
Before the bill is even passed, we are seeing this plan's philosophy working already. On the news (the) night before last, they told who would be given the swine flu shot and in what sequence of priority. Pregnant women, children and young adults through 24, then 24 to 64 years of age. No mention was made at all about those over 64.
I believe this philosophy is beginning to permiate (sic) society and it is so wrong. I cannot remain silent and want to speak out against any discrimination against senior adults. We play a major part in society for our children, our grandchildren and many of us who continue to work and pay into the tax system the same as others.
HHS admits that its vaccination plans have changed as swine flu has spread:
“Now that an actual flu pandemic has arrived, we must be flexible and adjust our response based on the nature of the actual virus that has emerged, is circulating and causing disease around the world,” says. 
“Based on what we know now about the novel H1N1 virus and the most vulnerable groups that are being affected most by this virus and those most likely to encounter it —younger people, pregnant women, healthcare personnel, and people who have underlying health conditions—it is necessary to revise and refine our vaccine prioritization guidance based on real world events.”
HHS says it already has invested more than $1 billion to produce a bulk supply of vaccine and to prepare pilot lots of potential vaccine for use in clinical studies.  
In addition Congress passed and President Obama recently signed a supplemental appropriation for $7.5 billion to cover the costs of preparing for H1N1, including a vaccination campaign.
“As we prepare for the fall flu season, we will be working closely with our partners in the medical community to develop, test, distribute and produce flu vaccines for prevention and anti-virals administer an H1N1 flu vaccine and to distribute and dispense antiviral medications for those who may require treatment.
“We will make every effort to have a safe and effective H1N1 vaccine available for distribution to those who are identified as target audiences as soon as possible, but our current estimate is that a vaccine for H1N1 won’t be ready for distribution until mid-October,” HHS says.
To encourage the manufacture and dispensing of the H1N1 vaccine, the government is granting “liability protection” for vaccine manufacturers and administrators.
HHS notes that on June 15, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signed a declaration to extend liability immunity against tort claims (except for willful misconduct) to individuals and entities involved in all stages of 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine development, testing, manufacture, distribution, prescribing, administration, and use. 
Liability immunity means that there is no legal tort claim that can be pursued in state or federal court.