Mary Pappas, a nurse at New York City's St. Francis Prep High School, has a tip for teachers, students, parents and employers preparing for a possible resurgence of swine flu this fall: Teamwork.
Pappas sent 102 children home sick this spring when St. Francis faced its own outbreak. As lines of students snaked through her office, Pappas tapped security guards to lend a hand.
"They helped," she said. "I taught them quickly how to take temperature, and they took temperatures, and put it on a Post-It note, and stuck it on the child."
Teamwork was also the theme of today's swine flu summit, where federal, state and local health officials gathered to size up what needs to happen to prepare for and prevent a second round of swine flu illnesses at the beginning of the upcoming school year like the ones that hit the world this spring.
President Barack Obama this morning called from Italy to urge the group gathered at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland to prepare now for a fall vaccination program.
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"We want to make sure that we are not promoting panic, but we are promoting vigilance and preparation," Obama said.
Having studied other public health challenges, he said, the president's team is well-prepared for whatever scenario lies ahead but touted local rather than federal efforts as key to curbing the spread of the virus.
"Where it's well-handled, state and local officials have complete ownership over this issue," Obama said. "They are providing good ideas to the federal government. They are critical links to inform us what's working and what's not."
A big part of preparing for a fall outbreak is developing a vaccine to fight this flu. The government today said clinical trials will start in August, with a voluntary vaccine program anticipated to begin in mid-October.
That vaccine program would be limited at first to those most susceptible to the virus. Those first in line to receive the series of two shots would be children, teenagers, health workers and pregnant women. Vaccine would be purchased by the federal government and distributed to state and local health departments.
"Right now the virus strain is being grown," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "We'll begin clinical trials this summer. We'll know more by, I think, the end of August."
"Even though we can't definitely say we know exactly what's going to happen, I would be terribly surprised if September and October came and all of a sudden this virus disappears because it's still hanging around in the northern hemisphere, and it's acting like a seasonal flu in the season of flu in the southern hemisphere," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Sebelius called on all states to update their emergency plans, including ways to carry out a mass vaccination program.
About $350 million in grants will also be divvied up among all states and U.S. territories, Sebelius said. About $260 million of that money will go to state health departments to prepare for vaccines, and $90 million will be funneled to hospitals to prepare for a surge of patients.
"Preparation is key," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "You've got to be thinking, and we all are thinking, about nuts-and-bolts types of questions."
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