President Declares Emergency To Ease Hospital Response to H1N1
President Obama declared the H1N1 influenza pandemic a national emergency over the weekend, the Washington Post reports.
The declaration comes as the country's vaccine supply falls far short of government expectations.
However, White House officials said the declaration is not related to the vaccine shortage but rather is intended to temporarily lift some federal regulations on health care providers to make it easier for them to respond to a new surge of patients.
The declaration will allow hospitals to establish off-site facilities to accommodate new patients, and certain Medicare and Medicaid requirements, privacy rules and other regulations can be waived to prevent health care providers from being overburdened by paperwork (Shear/Stein, Washington Post, 10/25).
Administration officials insist the decision was an administrative move and "did not signify any unanticipated worsening in the United States of the H1N1 outbreak," the New York Times reports (Calmes/McNeil, New York Times, 10/26).
However, James Hodge, a professor of health law at Arizona State University, called the move "much more than a formality." He added, "Broader powers of the federal government are now authorized to respond to the emerging outbreak. In short, the stakes just got raised with this proclamation."
So far, H1N1 has hospitalized at least 20,000 U.S. residents and caused at least 1,000 deaths, according to CDC (Washington Post, 10/25).
Vaccine Shortage Comes as Virus Spreads
On Friday, CDC officials acknowledged that there have been significant delays in obtaining H1N1 vaccines, CQ HealthBeat reports.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden said the availability of the vaccine is increasing but at too slow of a pace. "We are not near where the vaccine manufacturers predicted we would be," Frieden said (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 10/23).
According to CDC, 16.1 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine had been shipped to U.S. warehouses as of Friday -- well below earlier estimates that there would be 40 million doses available by the end of October, the Wall Street Journal reports (McKay/Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 10/24).Flu experts say that the shortages are temporary and that there will be a surplus of the vaccine by early next year (New York Times, 10/26). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.