President Obama declared the swine flu outbreak a national emergency and empowered his health secretary to suspend federal requirements and speed treatment for thousands of infected people. Despite the language, the White House emphasized the declaration is bureaucratic in nature and should not signal cause for alarm. The goal is to remove red tape and allow Kathleen Sebelius to grant waivers to overburdened medical facilities on such things as Medicare, Medicaid, or health privacy regulations.
The outbreak has killed more than 1,000 people in the US, including 100 children, and 46 states report cases. Because of vaccine production delays, the government has backed off initial estimates that as many as 120 million doses would be available by mid-October. As of Wednesday, only 11 million doses had been shipped to health departments, doctor's offices, and other providers.