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H1N1 vaccine likely to become more widely available

The H1N1 vaccine may become more available to people who aren't in high-risk groups.
The H1N1 vaccine may become more available to people who aren't in high-risk groups.
  • Vaccine has been limited to high-risk groups, but that may change
  • Production of vaccine has increased and state officials say that helps
  • H1N1 is in decline, but authorities expect another wave of cases in early 2010

(CNN) -- Restrictions limiting the H1N1 flu vaccine to high-risk groups could be lifted in many U.S. states now that production of the vaccine has increased, state health officials said Monday.

Illinois could open up vaccinations to the general public as soon as Friday, while Oregon plans to re-evaluate the progress of its vaccination program next week, representatives of those states' public health agencies said. Arizona also wants to open its vaccine stocks, but some of its large counties need more time to make sure high-risk populations get vaccinated, said interim Department of Health Services Director Will Humble.

"I think all the states are thinking the same thing," Humble said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 73 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are now available, up from about 42 million in mid-November. The agency has said children, pregnant women, parents of infants who can't be vaccinated, health-care workers and people with chronic illnesses should get the first inoculations, but CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters last week that some states have been opening up vaccinations as the number of available doses has increased.

"The focus is the priority group, the people who will benefit the most from the vaccine," Frieden said Friday. "But increasing numbers of communities and states are providing vaccines to larger groups of people."

Humble said Arizona has received about a third of the 4 million doses of H1N1 vaccine it expects to receive this flu season. Local health officials are attempting a "balancing act" between getting their high-risk patients vaccinated and opening the vaccines to the wider population while there is a "sense of urgency" about the virus, he said.

The disease, commonly known as swine flu, is in decline, but authorities expect another wave of cases in early 2010, Humble said.

"I don't want to move too early, but I don't want to wait too late, either," he said.

Two other states contacted by CNN on Monday said they also are examining the issue.

In Illinois, health officials expect to ease their restrictions on the vaccine "in the very near future," perhaps as early as the end of the week, said Kelly Jakubek, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health. In Oregon, Public Health Department spokeswoman Christine Stone said authorities plan to re-examine the issue next week, but she added, "Every week things are changing."

"The number of doses coming into the state has been much more impressive over the last few days," Stone said. Doctors are "really, really pushing the priority groups this week," she said.

The state has so far vaccinated nearly 892,000 people, about 46 percent of its high-risk population, and received an allotment of 126,000 doses of swine flu vaccine this week, Stone said.

All three states have widespread outbreaks of the H1N1 virus. Illinois has reported 2,187 hospitalizations from the disease, with 67 confirmed deaths. In Oregon, 1,258 people have been hospitalized and 57 people have died, while Arizona has recorded 1,488 hospitalizations and 125 deaths.

Nationwide, the CDC estimated the number of U.S. deaths in mid-November at about 3,900.