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As examples, I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.
These questions will not be dealt with once and for all, but reframed and enriched again and again. Theological and philosophical reflections on the situation of humanity and the world can sound tiresome and abstract, unless they are grounded in a fresh analysis of our present situation, which is in many ways unprecedented in the history of humanity.
So, before considering how faith brings new incentives and requirements with regard to the world of which we are a part, I will briefly turn to what is happening to our common home. Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution.
Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development.
Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity. Following a period of irrational confidence in progress and human abilities, some sectors of society are now adopting a more critical approach. We see increasing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet.
Let us review, however cursorily, those questions which are troubling us today and which we can no longer sweep under the carpet. Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.
People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.
Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources.
The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish.
To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.
We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.
Climate as a common good The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.
A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.
Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.
Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes. Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate climate change.
Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.
Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.
They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children.
There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.
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They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world.
Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.
However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy.
There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency.
But these good practices are still far from widespread. Other indicators of the present situation have to do with the depletion of natural resources. We all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels.
The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty. Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture and industry.
Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term.
Large cities dependent on significant supplies of water have experienced periods of shortage, and at critical moments these have not always been administered with sufficient oversight and impartiality. Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultural production. Some countries have areas rich in water while others endure drastic scarcity.
One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality.
Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls.
It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas. Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.
Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.
This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance.
This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality. Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken.
The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.
The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.
Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms.
Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state.
But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation.
For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems.
But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly.
We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves. In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely.
As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives exist which at least lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries demonstrate such concern and foresight.
Frequently, when certain species are exploited commercially, little attention is paid to studying their reproductive patterns in order to prevent their depletion and the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation.
But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.
Some countries have made significant progress in establishing sanctuaries on land and in the oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features or alter their original structures. In the protection of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for particular attention to be shown to areas richer both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less protected species.
Certain places need greater protection because of their immense importance for the global ecosystem, or because they represent important water reserves and thus safeguard other forms of life. Let us mention, for example, those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers and glaciers. We know how important these are for the entire earth and for the future of humanity.
The ecosystems of tropical forests possess an enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when these forests are burned down or levelled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years countless species are lost and the areas frequently become arid wastelands.
A delicate balance has to be maintained when speaking about these places, for we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations. The replacement of virgin forest with plantations of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely adequately analyzed.VP Joe Biden ENDORSES same-sex marriage
Yet this can seriously compromise a biodiversity which the new species being introduced does not accommodate. Similarly, wetlands converted into cultivated land lose the enormous biodiversity which they formerly hosted.
In some coastal areas the disappearance of ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a source of serious concern. Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated. Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them.
In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.
All of this helps us to see that every intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately evident, and that certain ways of exploiting resources prove costly in terms of degradation which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself. Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.
Each area is responsible for the care of this family. This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.
Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity.
Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space.
We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature. The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity.
These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life.
Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion. Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.
In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution.
Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.
Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.
The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.
In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas.
It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded.
These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile.
This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality.
Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.
Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining.
There is a pressing need to calculate the use of environmental space throughout the world for depositing gas residues which have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation which currently affects all the countries of the world. The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.
There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned.
In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future. The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse.
The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development. The poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for reducing environmental impact because they lack the wherewithal to develop the necessary processes and to cover their costs.
We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference. These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.
Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness. The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations.
The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice. It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been.
The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.
Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.
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Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption.
People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning.
The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.
Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is.
It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims.
War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons. But powerful financial interests prove most resistant to this effort, and political planning tends to lack breadth of vision.
What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so? In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvement: These achievements do not solve global problems, but they do show that men and women are still capable of intervening positively.
For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love. At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness.
As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time.
The flu season is beginning and we are seeing some things that are concerning and that led us to issue a health advisory to clinicians across the country. One thing to understand about flu always is that it is unpredictable.
Every season is different with different flu viruses spreading and causing illness. So far, this season influenza A, which is called H3N2 viruses have been detected most frequently and in almost all states. We know that in seasons when H3 viruses predominant, we tend to have seasons that are the worst flu years, with more hospitalizations from flu and more deaths from the flu.
Unfortunately, about half of the H3N2 viruses that we've analyzed this season are different from the H3N2 virus that's included in this year's flu vaccine. They are different enough that we're concerned that protection from vaccinations against these drifted H3N2 viruses may be lower than we usually see. Most of the other viruses identified are the same as the viruses covered by the vaccine.
We continue to recommend flu vaccine as the single best way to protect yourself against the flu. Vaccine will protect against the strands that are covered in the vaccine and may have some effectiveness against the drifted strain.
While vaccination is still important, I want to emphasize a second tool to fight the flu and the complications that flu causes, and that is antiviral medications. Antivirals are not a substitute for vaccinations. Vaccinations prevent flu, but antivirals are an important second line of defense to treat the flu. This year, treatment with antiviral drugs is especially important, particularly for people who are at high risk of serious flu complications or for people who are very sick with flu.
It's especially important to get antiviral medicines quickly if you have flu. They work best when you start them within two days of the beginning of flu symptoms, and we strongly recommend that if doctors suspect the flu in someone who may be severely ill from the flu, they don't wait for the results of a flu test before starting antivirals. I'll say a little more about this, and then I'll answer questions along with Dr. Joe Bresee from the influenza division.
During the week ending November 22nd, 91 percent of the approximately 1, flu positive tests reported to the CDC were influenza A, and 9 percent were influenza B viruses.
As I noted before, of the influenza A viruses, nearly all were H3N2, and of those, about half were antigenetically different from the H3N2 component of the flu vaccine.
These changes can signal that the immune response provided by vaccinations won't protect as well for these viruses, and there's a lot of numbers there. Let me go over them again. What we are seeing this year is largely an H3 year, about 90 percent of the viruses we've typed so far are H3. Of the 90 percent, about half are well matched with the vaccine strain, and about half are poorly matched with the vaccine strain, so for the B viruses, about 10 percent, those are well matched.
For half of the 90 percent, they are well matched, but for the other half of the 90 percent, they are not well matched, and we may well see less effectiveness, although there also could be some effectiveness against influenza even for the drifted viruses from the vaccine.
The drifted viruses were first detected in March of after — when it was already too late to include them in this season's vaccine. At that time, the current vaccine component, the one that's covered, the H3 vaccine that's in the strain, that is in the vaccine, was still by far the most common of the H3N2 viruses.
These viruses, both the H3 that's well matched and the H3 that's poorly matched are likely to continue to circulate in the U. We have four different strains of flu circulating: The B strain, the h1 strain, the well matched H3 strain, and the poorly matched H3 strain, and only time will tell which of them, if any, will predominate for the following weeks and months of this year's flu season.
Flu always has a potential to be serious, but H3N2 viruses tend to be associated with more severe seasons. The rate of hospitalization and death can be twice as high as or more than in flu season when H3 doesn't predominate.
People with certain health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and pregnancy are also at high risk. We're also noting our hospitalizations for the year, and we know, sadly, that so far there have been five pediatric deaths associated with influenza. We've also heard of outbreaks in schools and in nursing homes.
During some seasons when the viruses are antigenically drifted, vaccine effectiveness can be lower, but that's not always the case. If we have a severe season with H3N2 virus predominating, getting a vaccine even if it does not provide as good as protection as we hope would be more important than ever and remains the single most important way to protect yourself against the flu. In addition, a vaccination will offer the usual protection of circulating viruses that have not undergone antigenetic draft.
We continue to recommend vaccination, because though far from perfect, it still offers us the best chance for prevention. We can't predict what will happen over the entire season.
The influenza vaccine is designed to protect from three or four, depending what vaccine you get, different influenza viruses. Any of these could circulate at any time in the season, and if we have a severe season, getting a vaccine that provides partial protection may be more important than ever, so, first, we urge people who have not been vaccinated to get a vaccine now.
Companies have already distributed close to billion doses this year. As I mentioned earlier, antiviral treatment is particularly important this year. Many people believe that since flu is a virus, there's no treatment for it. In fact, there are antiviral drugs that work to reduce the severity of influenza. There are two FDA approved drugs recommended for use in the U.
Treatment with antiviral drugs works best when they are begun 48 hours of getting sick, but they can still be helpful in some patients when given later in the course of the illness.
Treatments with antiviral drugs for influenza can make your illness milder and shorter. It can reduce the likelihood you'll end up in a hospital or in intensive care, and we believe treatment with antiviral drugs can reduce the risk of dying from influenza. Prescription antiviral drugs, however, are greatly under prescribed, particularly for people who are at very high risk of getting the flu.
Probably fewer than one in six people who are severely ill with the flu get antiviral drugs. Very important that we do better for people who are severely ill or who could become severely ill with influenza. That's the single most important message of this telebriefing. We need to get the message out that treating early with the drugs makes the difference between a milder illness or a very severe illness.
Time is important when it comes to treatment for influenza. Antiviral drugs are even more important when circulating viruses are different from the vaccine virus. This can mean the vaccine is not as effective in this year as it has been in the past, and that cannot only have more people coming down with severe illness, but also crowding emergency departments and hospitals.
I also want to remind people of another defense against respiratory viruses like the flu are simple things like staying home if you're sick so that you don't make other people sick. I'll conclude by reiterating we cannot predict what's going to happen in the rest of the flu season.
It is possible we could have a season that's more severe than most with more hospitalizations and tragically more deaths. I want to urge anyone who has not got vaccinated to get vaccinated. It's still our best tool to prevent influenza. My family's been vaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Second, to encourage you if you are sick, talk to your doctor promptly about getting antiviral treatment because that can help you get healthy quicker.
Third, take everyday actions like covering your cough and staying home if you're sick. With that, I'll stop, and we'll open for questions. Hi, Rebecca, we're ready for questions, please. Thank you, our — we'll begin the question and answer session. If you have a question please press star 1. Remember to say your name and please unmute your microphone. Thank you, good morning Dr. Frieden, thank you for doing this. Some years back when we had the H1N1 swine flu issue, the manufacturers of the vaccine were willing to come out with separate vaccines for H1N1, if I remember, and to include H1N1 in the general vaccine going forward.
Has there been in — or what's been the result of communications CDC may have had with the drug makers regarding vaccines and getting people vaccinated against this strain, or is it too far in the season to make that happen? During the H1N1 pandemic, by April, we had the vaccine and could begin the production.
Here, we only saw this drifted strain become common in September. By which time the vaccine was already out. Even with the newer vaccine technology, a cell based production; it takes four months to make the vaccine.
Essentially, the flu change was too late for the vaccines to be changed. I've seen some data showing that there's not a correlation to match the vaccine and the virus and its effectiveness. Do we need a better measure of the vaccine effectiveness?
Each year, we do studies to measure the effectiveness of the vaccine, and we find variability in how effective the vaccine is. They are not easy studies to do because we don't always have the contracting of each patient who has flu vaccine, but the bottom line is that the flu vaccine is our best tool for prevention that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine does tend to vary year to year, and that the drifts that we're seeing may indicate that it may be less effective this year, and that's why we think that it is particularly important that people who are very sick, who are at risk of becoming very sick get antiviral drugs, Tamiflu, promptly.
I'd like to turn the question over for a more in-depth answer to Dr. Yes this is Dr. I agree with what Dr. It's clear that the laboratory tests we're using to understand how closely related this virus is to the vaccine virus is are good, but they're imperfect markers of how well the vaccine will function in the field. We'll know that soon. We do study's every year in the field to measure the real life effectiveness of how well these vaccines work in the field. We'll have that data sometime in the middle of the season.
We'll know the answer to this. You're right to the extent that these aren't perfect markers of what to expect in terms of how well the vaccine will work, but they are related to how well the vaccine worked. As a note of caution, once we saw the drifted strains, the strains that look somewhat different than the vaccine strains, we wanted to make sure that people knew and make sure that people knew the tools like antivirals they had to medicate the disease and flu.
The line is open. Thank you very much for taking my question. With regard to the antivirals, we've seen in past years that sometimes stocks have been somewhat depleted that there have not been necessarily enough. Will they be sufficient this year? What, if anything, is the CDC doing now to ramp up production?
Yeah, that's a great question. This is Joe Bresee again. We're not aware of any shortages now, and we expect to have enough antivirals to meet the demand this year. Occasionally because the pediatric formulation suspensions are in short supply, we may have shortages in that and sometimes do, but we have ways to get around that by taking the capsules and making a formulation for children.
And there are directions for that on the CDC website. I had a question. Can you give an update about the shortage in production delays that the vaccine itself that was a problem earlier this year?