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November 12, 2009

H1N1 Swine Flu Deaths and Vaccination

CNN reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new H1N1 statistics. Nearly 3,900 people, including about 540 children, are believed to have died from the H1N1 flu in the first six months of the epidemic.

In a normal flu season the number of deaths for children is about 100.

Average US flu deaths in a year are about 30,000-40,000 and the numbers could be similar for H1N1. However, 90% of the deaths from H1N1 are for people younger than 65 while normal flu has 90% of deaths for people older than 65.

If there were 39,000 deaths from H1N1 in the USA then the expectation would be 5,400 deaths for children from H1N1. The death rate from H1N1 for children would be 20-40 times higher than regular flu for children. So getting a vaccination against H1N1 is the right choice. If you are under 65 then not getting a vaccination against H1N1 is taking 20-40 times the risk as not getting vaccinated against regular flu. Plus H1N1 could get more virulent (deadly in 2010-2011) so if you do not get it this time and get it next time it could be even worse. H1N1 could also become less deadly in 2010-2011, but that seems like a foolish gamble for something that is 20-40 times more deadly than regular flu.

41.6 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are now available, up from 38 million last week, but "not as much as we'd hoped to have by today." CDC told reporters last week that about 8 million new doses were expected this week. The Department of Health and Human Services has ordered 75 million doses of swine flu vaccine for delivery by year's end.


It takes 2 weeks after a vaccination injection for a body to develop immunity, so in early December the significant number of November vaccinations should significantly reduce the spread and deaths from H1N1.

22 million have gotten sick in the USA with swine flu. If they knew they had swine flu they would not need vaccination. It seems likely that 60 million people will be vaccinated and 35 million people will have gotten swine flu in the USA by the end of 2009. 66 million vaccinations would save about 12,000 lives from those directly vaccinated and also reduce the spread of the disease. 132 million vaccinations would save about 24,000 lives. Combined with those getting immunity from getting and surviving H1N1 would be approximately complete coverage of the USA.

The most likely to die are those who are obese (BMI 35 or higher are five times more likely to die), pregnant women, and those with asthma or other lung diseases. As already noted is the young are more likely to die from H1N1. Those 65 and older seem to have likely contracted something similar to H1N1 prior to 1950 and developed some greater level of resistance.



President Obama has declared H1N1 swine flu a national emergency, clearing the way for his health chief to give hospitals wider leeway in how they handle a possible surge of new patients.

The president granted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to lift some federal regulations for medical providers, including allowing hospitals to set up off-site facilities to increase the number of available beds and protect patients who are not infected.


This was a prudent action to reduce deaths from infectious disease. Although more people will die from heart disease and cancer, those are not infectious diseases.

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