JULY 01, 2006

The way the bird flu vaccine is distributed will be the responsibility of each state, announced Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt. If the H5N1 strain of bird flu causes a worldwide epidemic, Leavitt said that for the first 6 months of any pandemic a vaccine would not be available.

Once doses become available, "this is a battle that'll be fought in thousands of communities simultaneously. What's working in one community may not work as well in another."

The government is stockpiling both antiflu medication and a tiny amount of vaccine that might give protection until inoculations that are a direct genetic match to the illness can be produced. The United States is looking at 6 months or longer until enough vaccine is available for everyone, Leavitt stressed.

Supplies will be divided among the states based on their population. State officials will be responsible for deciding who receives the vaccine first. "The federal government has a very important role, and we'll play it." Yet, "when it comes down to managing the public health in a pandemic situation, it will be up to local public health authorities," Leavitt said.