China to begin A/H1N1 flu vaccination

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China will start vaccinating citizens against A/H1N1 flu in the coming weeks to fight a surge in the disease that is expected to gain speed, the country's top health official said yesterday.

"We are faced with a grim situation," Health Minister Chen Zhu told reporters in Beijing, pointing to the return of students to school and the upcoming National Day holiday in conjunction with the start of the fall flu season.

Chen said cluster outbreaks of A/H1N1 flu have surged rapidly, with 128 such reports since the end of June, and cases have been accelerating since the start of this month, when schools reopened.

Chen said an order to begin mass inoculations was issued by the State Food and Drug Administration on Monday after the safety and effectiveness of domestically produced vaccines was confirmed in clinical tests.

The first people to receive the vaccinations will be those attending celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Chen said.

The festivities on October 1 in Beijing feature a military parade, fireworks and a pageant involving about 200,000 people.

Chen said protection would also be given to vulnerable groups, such as victims of chronic disease, students and medical staff.

"We will also consider the differences between regions and start the vaccinations in areas where flu situations are serious," Chen said.

But China's ability to produce A/H1N1 flu vaccines is still limited compared with its 1.3 billion population, the health minister said.

"We still need to carry out preventive measures proved effective previously, especially the public's ability to protect itself," Chen said.

"We will improve information channels and formulate prevention plans targeting railway and aviation venues. We will also improve treatment methods. Apart from respiratory and anti-viral medicines, we will use traditional Chinese medicines."

As of Monday, 5,592 cases of swine flu had been reported on the Chinese mainland since the disease surfaced this year. Nearly 70 percent of the victims have recovered, and there have been no deaths.

(Shanghai Daily September 9, 2009)

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