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November 12th, 2009
10:59 AM ET

Education secretary: H1N1 vaccines can't come soon enough

The CDC has revised its swine flu estimates today to say that 4,000 people have died from H1N1. The virus is hitting schools so hard in some cases they've been forced to shut down altogether. About 350 schools were forced to close because of swine flu last week alone.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/12/duncan.cnn.art.jpg caption=" Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says everyone must work together to keep students safe from H1N1."]

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s American Morning Thursday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

Kiran Chetry: We'll be talking about a new initiative you guys are launching today. First, swine flu is on the minds of a lot of parents and a lot of teachers out there. How should schools be dealing with swine flu right now?

Arne Duncan: I've actually been really proud. I think schools have done an extraordinary job of trying to stay open in keeping sick students at home. We're actually seeing declines in the number of schools closing. We've been working very, very hard on prevention, making sure students are washing their hands frequently and thoroughly, coughing into their sleeves, not into their hands.

Now we're really moving into the chance to get vaccinations. And we want schools to be open and many schools around the country are opening their doors so that students can receive vaccines within those school buildings. We think that's very, very positive. Obviously, parents have the option, the choice of whether or not their students will receive the vaccine. I can tell you my wife and I are going to make sure that when the vaccination is available for our children that they will receive it.

Chetry: So you’re saying you are still waiting for the vaccine to be available for your kids. In our town, swine flu is going around. There's been many cases of it. Yet our pediatricians don't have enough of the shots. I have a girlfriend who is pregnant and can't get it. My daughter has asthma which is considered one of the high risk groups. These are the people the government said needs the shot. We've been told about a manufacturing shortage. Will this vaccine come too late for many?

Duncan: Obviously, it can't come soon enough and we wish it was here yesterday but obviously, we just want to make sure our school doors are open and as it becomes available, schools are part of the solution.

Chetry: You know, the American public doesn't necessarily have a lot of confidence in the government's ability to prevent an epidemic right now. We did a poll about it showing that only 11% of people asked were very confident that the government can prevent a nationwide epidemic. Do you think that people don’t understand exactly how hard you guys are working to try to get swine flu vaccine out to people and prevent an outbreak, or is it a communication breakdown? Why do you think not many people have faith in our government when it comes to this issue?

Duncan: I don't know if government alone could ever prevent an [outbreak]. We all have to work together. It takes government, it takes parents, it takes students, it takes schools, it takes doctors, it takes community health officials, all of us have to work together to make sure our students have a chance to be safe. Obviously, we're most worried about young children, who are very much at risk of the H1N1 virus.

Chetry: Let's put swine flu aside and talk about what's going on with the administration. You guys are rolling out a new program today called Race to the Top. In this program, school districts as well as states and schools themselves can actually vie for money – stimulus money to the tune of $4 billion by adopting certain education reforms. Tell us how this is going to work.

Duncan: This is a huge, huge opportunity, unprecedented resources to invest in states and districts and nonprofits that are willing to challenge the status quo and lead the country where we need to go educationally. We want better results for students. We want more students not just graduating from high school but going on to college. We want to close the achievement gap. We want to create more learning opportunities for students. And these grant resources give us the chance to invest in those states and districts that are willing to challenge the status quo and help us get dramatically better results for children. So it's an extraordinary opportunity.

Chetry: Does it involve in terms of gauging how the program is successful or what schools are doing well? Does it mostly focus on test scores?

Duncan: That's a piece of it. At the end of the day I'm most interested in graduation rates. We have to educate our way to a better economy. There are no good jobs out there for high school dropouts, as you know. We want to make sure many more of our high school graduates are actually prepared for either college or the world of work. So trying to get dramatically better outcomes at the back end. That's what this is about. Higher graduation rates, more students ready for college, for higher education and for the world of work.


Filed under: Education
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Mark

    Wasn't Hillary R. Clinton accusing the Bush admin. for being "asleep at the will" in 2004 on the very issue of flu vaccines? What's her opinion now? Surely CNN can dig it up and share it with us.

    November 13, 2009 at 10:53 am |
  2. hongli

    I wonder why Sarah Palin choose Oprah insted of FOX NEWS to launch her book? Your answer--- Even FOX NEWS will not tolerate her lies. GO FIGURE!!! I guess Levi will be on shortly to further expose this PATHOLOGICAL LIAR FROM ALASKA.

    November 13, 2009 at 9:27 am |
  3. Jessica

    My school just got the vaccine for H1N1 not too long ago. I think the schools are doing very well trying to keep the schools open, and students to be more careful with germs. And beside, the government are trying their best. A new President just took the role, he doesn't have enough experience yet, but his advisors will help him. Sure, I do think that they can't prevent an epidemic, but they are trying their best, and this H1N1 is a new virus, you can't expect them to just get answers right away. And just because you don't have the vaccine yet, doesn't mean it won't come. You just have to hope for the best. Anyways, I'm not getting the shot, I'm saving it for someone who needs it more than me. So that is something that most people can do to help with the shortage of the shot. I'm not saying not to get it, but that if you are quite sure that you aren't exactly in a large risk you don't have to get it.

    November 12, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  4. JJ in Chula Vista, CA

    We've seen plenty of data in news reports indicating the impact of the H1N1 virus, who has it, how many people have it, how many people have died of it, but a month into the first H1N1 vaccinations, where's the data indicating the impact of the vaccine splashed in the headlines?

    November 12, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  5. KenC

    Swine Flu is a joke. I was diagnosed with it recently, and recovered in 3 days. I had not taken any vaccines or obtained a flu shot for that season. Stop blowing this thing out of proportion.

    November 12, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
  6. New Yorker

    The Swine Flu is way too hyped up. This is not an epidemic nor will it ever turn into one. If you listen to non-government medical personel, they will tell you it's very similar to the regular flu. It's a virus that's very contagious, that is new so we don't have a proven vaccination for it. This "vaccination" has harmful chemicals in it such as Mercury, which is really not healthy to be injected into your bloodstream. For me just hearing that Obama approved of the "vaccination" made me decide not to get it. I really don't trust our current government at all anymore. No one has been able to completely prove that this "vaccination" actually prevents us from getting the Swine Flu.

    November 12, 2009 at 11:58 am |