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Congressional Committee Considers Preparedness and Response to Seasonal Influenza

March 08, 2018

The U.S. House Energy & Commerce Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee heard testimony from leading government officials about public health preparedness for the seasonal influenza and ways to improve the response.
This focus on public health preparedness lends support for ongoing legislative efforts spearheaded by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D–PA) and Richard Burr (R–NC) to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), key federal legislation which establishes the federal framework to address public health threats ranging from infectious diseases, to natural disasters, bioterror attacks, and mass casualty events. PAHPA will expire at the end of the fiscal year.

The Energy & Commerce hearing—Examining the U.S. Public Health Preparedness for and Response Efforts to Seasonal Influenza—provided a forum for federal officials to examine the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to:

  • Combat seasonal influenza
  • Develop an effective influenza vaccine
  • Prepare a long-term strategy to improve seasonal influenza preparedness

Testimony by top officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration reiterated the importance of getting the flu vaccine.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older, and indicates it is the most important step in preventing influenza infection.

Data released by the CDC in February estimated this season’s vaccine effectiveness. Key preliminary findings include:

  • Vaccination reduced the risk of having to go to the doctor for flu by 36 percent
  • The flu vaccine has offered substantial protection against H1N1 flu (67%) as well as moderate protection against flu B viruses (42%)
  • Vaccine effectiveness against this season’s dominant H3N2 viruses is about 25 percent
  • The vaccine has offered better protection against H3N2 for children six months to eight years old, with estimated effectiveness of 51 percent
  • Overall, the vaccine is 59 percent effective against both influenza A and B in children six months to eight years of age

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, provided context for the major challenges in influenza vaccinology and highlighted that a “more broadly protective, or universal, influenza vaccine would be a valuable tool in our efforts to generate more durable protection against multiple influenza strains.” Dr. Fauci cited the following priorities:

  • Improve efficacy of current influenza vaccines
  • Improve production of influenza vaccines—egg-based vs. cell-based vs. recombinant DNA technology
  • Develop universal influenza vaccines for broad coverage

Flu vaccines are available in many locations, including doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics, and pharmacies. In Pennsylvania, pharmacists are permitted to provide all immunizations including influenza vaccine to patients nine years of age and older. The vaccine finder website can be a useful tool for finding a vaccine location.

For more information about the flu, visit the DOH website, or the CDC website. For information about how the flu is impacting Pennsylvania hospitals, contact Mark Ross, HAP’s acting director of the statewide emergency preparedness program.

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