Vaccination for H1N1, both in humans and swine, were topics for discussion in a Thursday media conference hosted by USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. The discussion included comments on vaccine availability and other priorities in preventing H1N1.

Many pork industry observers believe swine workers and swine veterinarians should be a priority to receive a human H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available to help prevent the virus from entering the  swine herd. Officials from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have given input and recommendations on the topic.  “We at APHIS have provided our input on who we believe should receive the (human) vaccine and we believe that will be taken into account as the decisions are being made,” says USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford.

The distribution plan of the human H1N1 vaccine is in progress, however it is not yet available.  “We are working on a plan to allocate the vaccine, but for now we just have to stay tuned,” says Merrigan.

The decision on the human vaccine priority list involves several government organizations including the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is further complicated by the availability and number of doses of the vaccine which become available. “We expect that H1N1 will hit our swine and that’s why we’re making the preparations we are making,” says Merrigan. ”These are complicated issues.”

USDA and state animal health officials have reached a consensus in dealing with a possible diagnosis of H1N1 in swine. “When pigs are sick with influenza, they should recover fully before being moved to other facilities or sent to slaughter,” says Clifford. “Pigs that recover from influenza have very low mortality. Pork is safe and consumers should not have concerns about consuming pork in regards to this or other influenza viruses.”

“Currently, we have not seen the virus in the U.S. swine herd.  However, pigs have a flu season, just as humans do. We encourage pork producers to report influenza cases to us,” added Cliford.

“We hope to have a H1N1 vaccine for swine sometime this calendar year,” says Clifford. USDA has produced a master seed which has sped the process of preparation of the vaccine. The master seed has been supplied to five veterinary biological manufacturers.

Read more on H1N1.