WASHINGTON DC – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) yesterday, February 15, introduced the Flu Vaccine Act, legislation to conduct or support comprehensive research for the creation of a universal influenza vaccine that could be administered once or twice and provide a lifetime of protection.
The legislation is calling for a total investment of $1 billion – $200,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2019 through 2023 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases within NIH spent an estimated $64 million for universal flu vaccine research in fiscal year 2017.
The United States has already seen 63 pediatric deaths and high levels of illness and hospitalizations related to the flu this season.
One-in-10 Americans who died the week ending on January 20th died from the flu or pneumonia.
The flu costs the nation $10.4 billion in direct medical costs annually and $87 billion in total economic burden, yet our current investment is significantly lacking.
The current flu vaccine is only 60 percent effective at best, with some estimates putting the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine as low as 10 percent.
Senators co-sponsoring the Flu Vaccine Act are Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
“America’s scientists and clinicians are gold medalists in health and disease research, and is it is up to the United States to lead the world in the response to the flu,” said Senator Markey, in a media release.
“We must enhance our ability to predict the right strain for the next season, produce a more optimal vaccine, and protect all Americans against all strains of this virus. The Flu Vaccine Act will help provide dedicated, consistent resources so that we can perform the basic science research necessary to improve upon our current vaccine and ultimately develop a universal one,” said Massachusetts’ junior senator.
“We have seen a record number of flu cases this year,” said Senator Blumenthal, in a press release. “Up to 4,000 Americans are dying each week as a result of the flu. Out of that catastrophic tragedy for many families is an obligation for Congress to learn and do better. I am proud to join in the Flu Vaccine Act, and I look forward to working for it vigorously.”
“This flu season has been one of the harshest in recent years, and it’s put the health of kids, seniors, and those with compromised immune systems at risk,” said Senator Smith, in a press release. “A universal flu vaccine—one that could provide a lifetime of protection and wouldn’t need to be given every year—would save lives, save money, and bring down health care costs. Let’s give America’s medical innovators, who are the best in the world at what they do, the support they need to develop this vaccine.”
“As an infectious diseases physician, I have seen and heard some of the devastating results of this winter’s severe influenza season, underscoring the urgent need for a universal vaccine that will provide protection against influenza regardless of each season’s primary strains,” said Dr. Paul Auwaerter, President, Infectious Diseases Society of America. “It is important that we invest the resources necessary to develop this life-saving tool, and Senator Markey’s bill will be extremely helpful.”
A copy of the Flu Vaccine Act can be found HERE.
Additionally, Senator Markey and his colleagues sent a letter today to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for more information on how the department is preparing for and responding to the flu virus.
Specifically, the Senators request additional detail on the department’s work to predict more accurately the right viral strain for upcoming flu seasons, produce vaccines more rapidly and effectively, prepare hospitals and providers for the risks of a severe flu season, and protect all Americans against the virus through developing a universal flu vaccine.
Senators signing the letter to HHS include Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Angus King (I-Maine.).
A copy of the letter to HHS can be found HERE.